BEN: Who are you and what do you do at camp?
RABBI WEINBERG: Rabbi Michael Weinberg – Segel (faculty) for Chalutzim since 1991. I come to camp to support and assist the Rosh Eidah (Unit Head) and the madrichim (Counselors) in the great work that they do to make camp both meaningful and fun for the chanichim (campers).
BEN: Chalutzim is a very unique program. For starters it’s Hebrew immersion. What does it mean to be Hebrew immersion at camp? Do all of the counselors really speak Hebrew? What about the campers?
RABBI WEINBERG: Yes, the madrichim and the Rosh Eidah and Segel really do speak with each other and with the chanichim in Hebrew. That’s what immersion means – we play and pray, live and learn, in Hebrew all day long. Chalutzim is the only Hebrew intensive, immersion program at an overnight camp in all of North America. We encourage our chanichim to express themselves using all of the Hebrew that they have – and then we teach them more and more Hebrew each day. The first step of language acquisition is understanding and our chanichim now understand much more than they did at the beginning of the summer. The second step is speaking, and now, as we’re nearing the end of the summer, we see more and more chanichim trying to express themselves in Hebrew.
BEN: Where do you get all of these Hebrew speaking counselors? Why do they come to camp?
RABBI WEINBERG: Many of our madrichim come from Israel. They are emissaries who not only speak and teach Hebrew but give our chanichim a first-person connection to Israel. We also have American counselors who speak Hebrew. That’s important because we believe that Hebrew is the language of the entire Jewish people and Americans who speak Hebrew serve a role models for our chanichim – they see that you can learn to speak Hebrew even if it is not your mother-tongue.
BEN: Wow! The kids learn Hebrew at camp? What else do the campers do? What makes Chalutzim special outside of learning a different language?
RABBI WEINBERG: Chalutzim chanichim do all the camp activities in Hebrew. In this way they have a full camp experience (including recreation, artistic creativity, community building, and just plain fun) and they do it in Hebrew which helps them experience Hebrew as a living language. Chalutzim also includes a full educational program about Israel and Zionism through which we build a connection to Israel: the land, the people and the State. This includes the history of the Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel all the way up to an examination of the many narratives about the current State as a modern government– its triumphs and its challenges.
BEN: Is this valuable for these teenagers? How is 7 weeks of camp with education important?
RABBI WEINBERG: First of all, 7 weeks of camp with some extra education is great in and of itself. But Chalutzim is more than that. It is identity building and relationship building. Our chanichim come to deepen and enrich their Jewish identity, learn to live in a community with their peers, and forge relationships with their American and Israeli madrichim that often continue for years after Chalutzim ends. All this makes Chalutzim the jewel of the OSRUI crown.
Wow! Thanks, Rabbi Weinberg, for sharing your insight and experiences with us about the inner workings of Chalutzim. We thank you for everything that you do at camp and wish you the best summer ever. And for all of you reading this, thanks for checking out our blog, and come back next week as we feature more of the great parts of camp that make it the greatest place on Earth! See ya later!