Counselors bring Israeli fun, culture to Camp J

Dar Katz (left) and Shachaf Shahar with Camp J campers at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. (Julie Zorn/TJCC)

As Camp J shlichot (Israeli emissaries), Shachaf Shahar and Dar Katz are here to share their love and knowledge of Israel and Jewish culture with the campers at the Tucson Jewish Community Center this summer.

Shahar, 22, is from Yad Morde­chai, a kibbutz in Tucson’s Partner­ship2Gether region in southern Israel. During her military service with the Israel Defense Forces, she worked in leadership training for “teenagers who had a tough background at home, to prepare them for the IDF.” Prior to her army service, she volunteered at a boarding school.

“I really like working with kids,” Shahar says, when asked why she wanted to be a shlichah. “It’s important to bring Israeli spirit and teach kids things about Israel that they don’t know.” She likes sharing new games and activities that may be unfamiliar to kids outside of Israel. For example, Shahar added an educational component to an Israeli children’s game called “Pass the Package.” She wrapped up pieces of Israeli chocolate in layers of paper. As campers passed the package around a circle, she asked them questions about Israel. If they answered correctly, they got to unwrap a layer and were rewarded with chocolate at the end.

When she was younger, Shahar visited Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago with a delegation from Israel’s Ministry of Defense. So she was intrigued at the idea of spending a full summer in the United States.

Katz, 20, is from Haifa, on Israel’s northern coast. During her IDF service she interviewed new recruits as part of the enlistment process, to screen for psychological problems and help determine where to place them. As a soldier, she traveled with a Birthright Israel group, which got her interested in the connection between Israel and Jews in the United States. Prior to her army service she served as a counselor for the Israeli Scouts for three years.

“Kids are curious about Israel,” Katz says. As Camp J’s culture specialist, she develops programs based around a different Jewish theme each week. While the camp’s overall theme for the summer is “Camp Around the World,” the special theme this week was “Jerusalem of Gold/Israel.” Katz planned an Israeli carnival with a variety of activity stations.

In addition to their camp responsibilities, Shahar and Katz will bring their Israel-oriented activities to the Congregation Anshei Israel and Temple Emanu-El preschools and visit the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation. In this way, their influence spreads beyond the Tucson J.

Throughout the summer, the shlichot live with host families who provide food, transportation and, most important, a warm, friendly home where they can relax during their downtime. Host families this summer include Suzanne Baron Helming and Bruce Helming, Oshrat and Eli Barel and Tamar Kugler and Eyran Gisches.

After camp wraps up at the end of the summer, both shlichot plan to travel before starting their university studies in Israel. Shahar’s destinations include the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and New York City. She then wants to spend the next year working and traveling in South America and the Far East, before going to college. Katz plans to spend a month on the West Coast, since she’s already visited New York and Orlando, Fla. Then she’ll spend four months in South America with a friend who is working as a shlicha at another camp. Although she hasn’t made any final decisions about college yet, Katz is leaning toward education or human behavior, “something people oriented.” “

I’m making friends for life here,” says Katz, “and memories that I’ll treasure forever.”

Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a feature writer and editor living in Tucson. She can be reached at nancy_ozeri@yahoo.com.