So why would I head out to Israel one week being in the job? Partly it was to make sure I was able to see the NOAM camp in action. NOAM is the Masorti Youth movement in Israel. The high point of the year for the 21 chapters across Israel is camp, it is an integral part of what they do. This year was even more special because now NOAM has a permanent home in a JNF forest near Kibbutz Hannaton, also affiliated with the Masorti Movement. My trip up north that first day meant I got to meet with both the camp and folks at the kibbutz.
It was so inspiring to be at Camp NOAM. It is a real movement camp, the kids run the show, with older kids helping out younger ones as they learn to make good decisions and take responsibility for their lives, both physical and spiritual. There is a progression in NOAM with kids starting in 3rd grade, celebrations honoring their moving up into new grade levels, and the formation of garins (clusters, together) some of which go on to Army together, college, have their children and raise families together as a permanent community. Camp, one counselor told me, was their way to “live like we dream”. It reminded me of the Herzl quote, “ If you will it, it is no dream”. The camp was Zionism realized, these kids were being empowered to create their own futures starting with today.
The camp is rustic, nothing fancy about it. There is almost never rain in the summer, the need is to have shelter from the sun, break up the wind, and create designated spaces for activities, (like the cheder ochel/dining hall and the Beit Midrash). This is not the place to go to be pampered, this is the place to go to build lives. One of the young women, who would be moving up the next day to full counselor status, shared, “ how amazing it was to see kids live up to the level we let them achieve, they are capable of so much more than is expected”.
Passionate, engaged, full of promise and acquiring the means and the community to achieve their goals; these kids made me feel so proud and hopeful for the future.
From the camp, we went to the Kibbutz, Hannaton. It was a kibbutz that was failing when the government was pulling back the resources subsidizing all the kibbutzim. This second wave, which started with 11 families, now has 76. Besides their dairy, they operate a comprehensive and growing Educational Center and a government recognized mikvah whose philosophy reminds me of Mayyim Hayim in Boston. They also had a beautiful, inviting pool there that took all of my self control not to run over to and jump in! The kibbutz was kind enough to let the kids from the camp come and use it this summer. Now that the camp is established nearby, they will be looking for more ways to help support it.
The Educational Center, owned by Masorti, provides employment and purpose for many on the kibbutz. It sits on the top of the hill and is seen as kind of a lighthouse, exporting a slice of heaven. They operate a mechina, army preparation and social service program that helps to instill democratic/Jewish values that will last a lifetime. Their social service programs, that send the kids out into the local communities serving the elderly, kids at risk, the poor and more, breaks down stereotypes about what it is to be a Jew that both the kids and the populations they serve may have harbored. They regularly get glowing letters from the communities they serve and have a growing list of young people who want to attend. They are committed to accessibility and commit 30% of their slots to kids who usually never get to go to mechina, the handicapped, kids from the periphery, kids from less privileged backgrounds, and newer immigrant groups.
Besides Mechina, the Educational Center has a growing list of other programs, like a 3 month leadership training program, a 6 month study/service post army program, as well as short term series and study programs for adults and congregations. If Jerusalem is the heart of Biblical Judaism, Hannaton is the center of Rabbinic Judaism, the middle of where the Sanhederin operated. People who study here get to see the tales of the Mishnah come to life.