Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines Strengthening the Family Structure

Attending summer camp is not a privilege reserved only for children. Mothers in Israel take part in summer recreation as well, and have been doing so for the past II years. Camps for mothers, which served 15,000 women this summer, is sponsored jointly by nine national women’s organizations and the Ministry of Social Welfare.

According to Shlomo Medina, director of the department for family services in the Ministry of Social Welfare, “This is a special program with specialaims.” Mothers must first be accepted into the program before they can attend the week-long camp.

The criteria for acceptance is reasonably specific — the women must come from a family with a minimum of four children, the youngest of which is not in school. She must also be in a situation tying her to the home, and thus depriving her of intellectual outlets, such as employment and academic pursuits.

The aims of the program are essentially two-fold. It is an opportunity for women to rest relax and broaden their horizons, through organized discussions and lectures. In addition, it provides a medium where the participants can explore their capabilities with social workers and improve their levels of self-confidence.

AREAS OF EMPHASIS

Though the goals of the sponsoring organizations overlap, their emphasis are placed on different areas. “The Ministry of Social Welfare sees this program as means for strengthening the woman and the entire family structure,” Medina noted. “Women not only discover new avenues for self-fulfillment, but also broaden their contact with their communities.”

Medina explained that many women realized the value of social services, as a result of the camps’ counselling process, and consequently returned to their neighborhoods with the outlook of improving the contact between community members.

Medina stressed the informational value of the camps and its influence on the participants. Each year the camps’ discussions are centered around a specific theme. This year’s theme was “unity.” It was approached on the level of family unity — relationships between mothers and children, between husband and wife; and on a societal level — between Arabs and Jews, between Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

Discussions were held in an atmosphere conducive to sharing and opening up, since the women all come from similar backgrounds. Not only their family structures were similar, but the majority tended to be religious Sephardic women. Family counselors and social workers were sent in to supplement the discussions and to answer questions.

RESULTS OF THE CAMPS

With regard to the results of the camps, Medina noted that “though few research studies have been carried out to statistically determine the effects, the multidisciplinary staff of social workers, women’s organization representatives, teachers, and doctors, who have worked with the women, will attest to the women’s improved sense of self as a result of the stimulation the camps provided. Many paraprofessionals were identified by the camps.” Though Medina did not denigrate the relaxing aspect of the camps, he maintained that that segment of the program was more emphasized by the woman’s organizations which co-sponsor the camps.

Nina Devere, a member of the national executive committee at Emunah Women and director of the camp at Kibbutz Levi, commented on the envigorating value of being in a new environment with new people and being exposed to new ideas. “So many women are interested and eligible for the program that we have had to set a ruling that the same woman cannot participate two years in a row,” she said.

Devere explained that at the inception of the program “we had trouble convincing women to come. It was something new and they were so closed in by the four walls, they were afraid to go out. Their husbands were also hesitant and sometimes opposed to letting them go. Now, since the program has been a success, we don’t seek women out — they seek us out.”

Both the women’s organizations — of which Emunah, WIZO, Na’ amat, and Agudat Israel are some of the larger groups involved — and the Ministry of Social Welfare are involved in the screening process for acceptance. The ministry funds the largest portion of the program. The women’s groups are asked to contribute a taken sum.

The women’s groups run simultaneous day care centers for one or two of the mother’s children. Older siblings and sometimes even the fathers take over the role of babysitting, while their moms are relaxing.

ORGANIZING THE WEEK’S ACTIVITIES

“Everything is taken care of for the women for that week,” said Devere. Each morning the women are picked up and taken to the kibbutz or public centers, depending on where they live. Provisions are made for them to nup in the afternoon, meals are prepared for them, coffee breaks are included in the daily program. Swimming and arts and crafts are also available. The week is capped with a trip connected to the theme of that year. Groups of approximately 20 who spent the week together at centers all over the country were taken to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv this year. Lectures and discussions fill out the rest of the week.

One mother from Tiberias, who attended the camp at Levi for the second time, praised the camp emphatically. “I wish I could go twice a year,” she said. “I learned a lot, I had a rest from my six kids, and I really enjoyed myself. I think all the women did,” she said.

NEXT STORY