When we received our instructions for Camp Koby we were told we were only allowed to bring one suitcase. However, it did not really matter, because what we were about to do was guaranteed to be worth the tight packing.
We were going to Israel to be counselors at a camp established for kids who have lost parents or siblings to terror. We all had similar
“It’s mind boggling to think that these were once 'normal” kids,'" said Elisheva Gans, an American counselor at Camp Koby. “These kids are older than their ages. They have eyes of the world.”
It’s true that these kids are not your average elementary and middle schoolers. They are more mature, more family oriented, and unlike kids who live under the same roof for over a week, they don’t fight over mundane things, enabling them to form strong and meaningful bonds with each other.
After all they’ve been through, the little things just don’t matter.
“When these kids are upset, they are really depressed. When they’re happy, it is pure kind of happiness that you won't see in other kids their age,” another counselor explained.
And it’s true, too. Many of the American counselors expected Camp Koby to have a melancholy atmosphere, where the kids sat in corners and sulk all day. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the atmosphere was exactly the opposite. The camp rages with spirit and a love of life that people in the outside world seemed to have forgotten.
Many people have asked us why we picked this program, out of all others, to spend our summer in. In reality, there is no easy answer. We came here with two things: our passion for Israel and our compassion for Israelis.
“I cannot think of a worse way to lose a parent than to terrorism,” said American counselor Rose King, who lost her father three years ago. “The fact that these kids are standing strong is incredible, and to be a part of it is an opportunity you cannot turn down.”
This is the way many of the Americans felt about the camp and the kids.
“The lesson learned is that life can always go on,” said Miriam Green of her experiences as an American counselor on the program. “You see kids without moms laughing in the pool like any other day. The strength that these kids have is incredible and inspirational on so many levels.”
Although camp was only two weeks long, everyone is walking away with something more than what they came with.
“As soon as those kids walked off the bus, the 'piguim' (terror attacks) became a reality to me. It wasn’t the 6 o’clock news anymore; it was standing right in front of me in these kids,” Elisheva said. “I think that at that moment I stopped caring about the time I would have this summer. I just wanted to do everything for these kids.”
In a short period of time, the counselors bonded with the kids in a way that many of them found hard to put into words. All Miriam could say was: “I love these kids!”
It is difficult to believe that some time in the near future we will be boarding the plane to New York. We know that no matter what happens after this summer, we will be different people because of it. It is not going to be easy to leave all this behind after we built such strong connections to the kids and Israel. On July 4, when we got on the plane for Israel, we walked into an experience we will always remember. Now we are walking away with lessons we will never forget.
Camp Koby is a project of the Koby Mandell Foundation , a project started by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell, parents of Koby Mandell, who was murdered by terrorists in 2001 in a canyon near the Mandell home in Tekoa