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JCC State of Mind – May 10, 2024

Posted by Admin on May 10, 2024

This week’s JCC State of Mind is by Emma Litwak, South Hills Day Camp Director

At our core, the JCC deeply values and promotes building Jewish identity and fostering meaningful connections to the land and people of Israel. This is built into the DNA of our camps, where opportunities abound for campers to explore and experience their Judaism and the culture of Israel.

I recently was fortunate to further my connection to Israel – both personally and professionally.

Last month, I traveled to Israel for the first time in my current role at the JCC and took part in the Jewish Day Camp Network’s Israel B’Yom program. Along with 13 other leaders from Jewish day camps, this professional development opportunity allowed me to delve into Israel’s history and current events, while also reflecting on how we can creatively infuse Israeli culture – ranging from music, food, geography, and language – into our daily routines at camp.

This summer will be the second consecutive summer that our JCC Day Camps will welcome Israeli staff. An important part of my time in Israel was focused on learning, engaging and building relationships with the eight shlichim (Israeli emissaries) who will be working at South Hills Day Camp and J&R Day Camp. Throughout the training and orientation, we explored topics such as what it will be like for the shlichim to immerse themselves in American culture and our Pittsburgh community, the opportunity for personal growth that comes from stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and facing new challenges, the role shlichim will play in strengthening ties between Jewish communities worldwide, what the host family experience will be like, and learning new songs and dances to take back to camp with us. #OsherCohen! Speaking of host families, we are still seeking community members who live in the City of Pittsburgh, South Hills or Fox Chapel to host our shlichim for 3-11 weeks between June 5 and August 18. We often hear stories from those who have hosted shlichim and years later they are still in touch and consider one another to be a lasting part of each other’s families. Click HEREto learn how you can be part of this amazing experience!

While I was in Israel, I also participated with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) on a solidarity trip in response to the events of October 7, including visiting one of the kibbutzim that had been attacked and meeting with a survivor. Though it was profoundly sad and difficult, I am thankful to have included this experience into my time in Israel. As a camp director, it will be important for me to better appreciate what our shlichimhave been through over the last several months and to continue working with our broader camp team on ways we can support them during their time serving campers and their families.

My time in Israel was another indelible part of my evolving journey as a Jewish communal professional, and I returned to Pittsburgh with a renewed connection to my Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood. I know that this experience and my learnings will help my colleagues and me create a more meaningful, impactful and engaged experience for our campers. I could not be more excited for our shlichim to join us and enrich the overall summertime experience for our campers, our staff and the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

Emma Litwak

South Hills Day Camp Director

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