The themes of Chanukah this year could not be timelier or more relevant: the miracle of the menorah; the victory of the few over the many and of good over evil; and the rededication of the Temple and of our religious freedom.
Undoubtedly, these past two months have been filled with darkness for Jews around the world. Yet we have witnessed sources of light and inspiration that give us hope as we move forward.
I recently traveled to Israel with a delegation of more than 20 Jewish organizational and educational leaders from North America on a two-day solidarity mission, Mishlachat Arevut (delegation of mutual responsibility). This mission, generously supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation, fostered awareness, connection, and partnership by engaging with survivors, families of victims and hostages, and communities directly affected by the horrific tragedy of October 7.
The devastation perpetrated that day resonated deeply throughout our mission. The universal concern for hostages and the emotional rollercoaster experienced by the Israeli populace created an atmosphere of shared vulnerability among our group. This collective trauma in Israel has been further exacerbated by the loss of trust in governmental institutions, supply chain disruptions, cessation of tourism, and the looming fear and anxiety of an uncertain future.
However, despite the emotional hurt and anxiety, the Mishlachat Arevut mission gave us a firsthand, personal view of the resilience, creativity, and collective strength of the Israeli spirit.
From the outset, I found inspiration from the immediate conversion of the protest movement into an organized, activated network of volunteers — a living, breathing testament to the adaptability and determination of the Israeli people. The stories of heroism shared were not just personal narratives but living proof of the strength that emerges in times of crisis.
I was struck by the level of creativity I witnessed in art, music, education, and cuisine, which have become powerful tools for expression and healing. Acts of generosity, both small and large, painted a picture of a nation rallying together to navigate the aftermath of such a profound and devastating event.
So what comes next? What am I bringing back to the field of Jewish camp from this experience?
While the Foundation for Jewish Camp has several initiatives that address wellness, security, and staffing, we also are focusing on refreshed Israel education, especially as we prepare this coming summer. I see three pressing areas of opportunity:
1. Witnessing the situation firsthand and engaging with Israelis in Israel allows for a deeper understanding and a more personal connection to the unfolding narrative. I urge Jewish camp directors and educators to visit Israel before the 2024 camp season so that they can bear witness and experience their own learning, processing, and growth.
2. October 7 represents an inflection point requiring new content, strategies, and methodologies for connecting with today’s new realities. My colleagues on the mission already have been exploring new ways to meet the moment, especially with a more nuanced understanding and sensitivity to diverse perspectives many college-age students have experienced on their campuses.
3. We must continue our efforts to deepen the connection between Israel and communities in the diaspora. We are one global Jewish community — am echad im lev echad — one people with one heart.Jewish camps accomplish this each summer, and we will help ensure they host even more Israeli chanichim (campers) and madrichim (counselors) for summer 2024.
My participation on Mishlachat Arevut has left an indelible mark on me. From witnessing the immediate impact of October 7 on the entire population, to experiencing the resilience and creativity of the Israeli spirit, I feel the imperative for unity, courageous leadership, and transformative education. We must adapt, collaborate, and remain deeply connected to the evolving narrative of Israel during these difficult days.
As we begin to celebrate Chanukah, our festival of light, we hope and pray that the darkness that has filled our world these past two months will give way to even brighter light. We must remain confident and steadfast in our unity and solidarity. We must demonstrate our gratitude, joy, and celebration of Chanukah by spreading more light and positivity sorely needed in our world today.
Jeremy J. Fingerman has been the CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp since 2010, and he is a vice president of JPRO Network, the network of North American Jewish communal professionals. He lives in Fort Lee with his family. Write to him at Jeremy@jewishcamp.org.