Once Foreign, Now Friends

During an international camp, an Israeli teen mingles with Christians and Muslims and becomes a stronger Jew.

The author, center, with South African participants in the Europe Camp For Kids. 

Have you ever participated in an international camp? Represented your country and met new people from different cultures? Last May I was selected to represent Israel in a delegation to Germany. It was one of the best experiences of my life and one I remember fondly today.

The Europe Camp For Kids is a teen program. The founders of this camp believe that international friendship promotes positive interactions between kids from different countries. During the camp teens are faced with the challenge of living together and settling disagreements and problems. Teens from such diverse places as Poland, South Africa, Ethiopia, Germany, China, Vietnam, Hungary, Romania, Turkey and Azerbaijan participated in the camp. There was also a delegation from the United States.

We participated in a number of ceremonies that featured dances and songs from every country. Our dance was to the song “Noladeti LaShalom” (“I was born to peace”) by Uzi Hitmman.

Every delegation chose a representative to attend the Bundestag, the German Parliament. I gave a speech in front of my team and they selected me. Every representative came up with good questions to ask the German ministers. I asked about the use of technology in their educational system. I also asked about how they promote environmental education and teach about the Holocaust. As you can see the theme of all these questions was education.

We had to ask about education and not sensitive topics such as politics because there were students representing countries — such as Israel and Turkey — with complicated relationships. For example, Turkey and Israel have had strained relations since the 2010 raid of the Marmara flotilla. (A ship with supposed humanitarian goods was sent from Turkey to Gaza and Israel stopped it from crossing the naval blockade of Gaza. Israel claimed the ship included weapons and its action was done in self-defense, but the attack killed Turkish citizens.) 

Naturally, the ministers’ answers were also politically correct even when they were asked about why German pupils don’t wear uniforms or why their summer holidays last only six weeks.

The ministers told me that they hope to incorporate technology into their science lessons and that German schools have a workshop in first grade on keeping the environment clean. They answered my question about the Holocaust in a very diplomatic way. They said that the teachers have a course about World War II but didn’t answer what students learn about the Holocaust. Maybe the translator didn’t express my question correctly.

Another meaningful experience was our welcoming of Shabbat. The boys said a few prayers and the girls lit candles. We sang Shabbat songs and one guy from Israel played the violin. The atmosphere was very warm. It was fascinating when a lot of boys and girls came to our Kabbalat Shabbat and asked a lot of questions and looked very interested in our tradition.

We even discovered another Jew who was part of the delegation from Ukraine, but she kept her identity a secret. I don’t understand why. Did her Ukrainian friends know that we are Jewish? What do they think about Jews? I cannot answer these questions.

The delegation from Israel. Every country had a cheer and shouted it during the competitions or in any free moment. Our chant was, “El, El, Yisrael,” which means “to Israel.” No one could forget us and our cheer. We showed off our Israeli pride at every opportunity.

Some of you may ask what is special about the Israeli mentality and how are we different than other people? People in Israel, or their parents and grandparents, came from all over the world and every country has unique customs. A mix of all these customs makes the colorful culture of Israel. The Israeli people are a little bit rough and brash, but this is the beauty of us.

During the camp I interacted with everybody, including Muslims and Christians. It was such a great feeling that people from different cultures and with different opinions connected without making war.

Since my trip to Germany my Jewish identity has strengthened. When I mixed with people from other countries, it was important for me to represent my country and my religion, even though I am not so religious. Before I went to Germany I was cynical about religion and Israel, but not anymore. When I think of my time in Germany, I feel proud of Israel and I know that I belong here. 

author's bio: 
Meital Bloom is a freshman in Rishon Lezion, Israel.