Sam Nackman and Aaron Rafelson, right, on top of a camel in Israel.
I was in Israel this summer for the first time in my life with Teen Age Camp, a New Jersey YMHA-YWHA camp located in Milford, Pa. We saw many sites and stayed in a multitude of places ranging from hotels, a kibbutz and even a sleep-away camp. Little did I know that what I experienced at this camp will likely stick with me for a longtime.
When we got to the camp in Northern Israel the first thing I noticed were the activities. On the basketball court were trampolines and a mini water slide. About ten 10 feet away was a mechanical bull that we could ride, and kids of varying ages ran around and seemed to be having the time of their lives. The camp resembled a kibbutz; each building had a different name, and there was a walking path to get to the places where we stayed.
Before we got the keys to our rooms the head of our trip asked for our attention and looked serious. I went quiet like most did and he explained what this camp did. The camp, named Camp Koby, is a place where kids who had an immediate family member killed by terrorists could get the therapy they need, meet similar children and have fun. At that moment I thought of the kids I saw at the camp when we drove in; they seemed to be having the time of their lives and did not have a care in the world. So I guess you could say the camp was doing its job.
We got our room keys, unpacked and went on with our day, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get my mind off the fact that every single camper there was affected by terror and yet they lived their lives without fear. I thought about this for the next few days. A couple of nights later during an evening program on the basketball court I asked to use the bathroom. On my way I froze due to a sound I have never heard before: a bomb siren. For a split second I was frozen in fear of what might happen, then I snapped back into a state of mind that would help me. I remembered exactly where the nearest bomb shelter was and sprinted there; luckily for me it was only 50 feet away.
I was one of the first people inside so I got see people’s reactions. Most were scared, some brushed it off, others were shocked and one kid felt like he had to take a bomb shelter selfie, so he did. Then I looked over at the Israeli kids in the shelter and I realized this was normal for them because they showed no fear and looked anxious to get out of the shelter.
After the required 10 minutes we were allowed to leave, and the camp leaders explained to us that the missile had come from Lebanon, not Gaza. While they were talking I heard a loud sound. No one said anything about it so I knew it was the Iron Dome, Israel’s anti-missile system, shooting it down. They also told us that it would be our last night in Camp Koby, and they sent us to our rooms to pack and then go to sleep.
As we packed up the bus to leave in the morning I thought I was only there for a few days, but this place will likely never leave me. Throughout the rest of my trip I never went into another shelter, but every time I heard about a missile hitting an area of Israel or the death of a civilian or soldier, I thought of those kids and knew that as long as those Camp Koby campers could have fun in their lives, this country and its people would thrive and survive.