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Israeli schools are out for the summer, time for sleepaway camp

9,000 Israeli schoolkids get to have the overnight experience at Summer Camps Israel

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Counselors for Piece of the Puzzle, one of the 20 overnight camps taking place across Israel during July-August 2021 as part of Summer Camps Israel (Courtesy Summer Camps Israel)
Counselors for Piece of the Puzzle, one of the 20 overnight camps taking place across Israel during July-August 2021 as part of Summer Camps Israel (Courtesy Summer Camps Israel)

The end of June brings the official close of the school year for Israeli schools, from elementary through high. This year, 9,000 Israeli kids will attend 20 overnight summer camps across Israel as part of Summer Camps Israel.

Several dozen will be coming from Israel’s south, following the conflict with Gaza-based terror groups last month.

“We want these kids to have a summer like any other Israeli kid,” said Anat Ben Dor, one of the Summer Camps Israel directors. “We want them to remember that life is good, that they can be just kids, playing and not worrying about anything else.”

The overnight camping organization offers camp experiences for kids from first to twelfth grade, religious and secular, Hebrew or Arabic speakers, with camps specializing in music, arts, coding, sports and surfing, among others.

The forum of Israeli overnight summer camps was created by philanthropist Shawna Goodman Sone, a Canadian immigrant to Israel who spent much of her childhood and adult life experiencing and appreciating overnight summer camps.

When Goodman Sone, the chair of the board of the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Foundation, moved to Israel six years ago, she wanted to bring a concept that would help strengthen Israel’s informal education system.

This year, Summer Camps Israel joined forces with Tovanot, or Insights in Education, and the Schusterman Foundation, aiming to reach Israeli kids in the country’s geographic and economic periphery who could greatly benefit from an overnight summer camping experience.

Tovanot aims to offer those children what “kids in Ra’anana and north Tel Aviv get,” said Karen Tal, founder and director of Tovanot, and the former principal of the renowned Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, which predominantly educates the children of foreign workers and asylum-seekers. She was referring to wealthier parts of the country. “We want their dreams to come true and for them to see themselves as leaders of the future.”

Tovanot assists at-risk schools to become institutions of excellence by encouraging the school administration to see themselves as social leaders through new management techniques and the recruitment of volunteers.

The Summer Camps Israel pilot with Tovanot will include 100 kids in this first year from seven schools in Migdal Haemek, Lod, the Bialik-Rogozin school, and Pardes Katz in Bnei Brak.

“The idea of summer camp is to give each camper strengths to go back next year and to see themselves as part of a group,” said Tal, who is particularly concerned about middle schoolers, who missed the most school days throughout the pandemic.

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