Imagine a small and decrepit wooden structure, filled to capacity with hot overcrowded beds. Shrieking people everywhere are fighting over the rations of food allotted to them by their superiors. These people haven’t washed for days, and the dirt that surrounds them latches onto their sticky fingers with every passing moment. It sounds horrible, uncomfortable, and demeaning. This scene, however, is held onto as dearly and as tightly as these sticky fingers can grasp, as these are not the barracks of a great world war, but rather another environment that fosters love, hate, and camaraderie. This scene, of course, is summer camp.
Every summer for the past 9 years I have subjected myself to the above situation, as a result of the deep-rooted and profound love I have for my camp. My summer home is unique in that unlike other unnamed summer camps, mine doesn’t have personal-unpackers, as it is part of a youth movement. Camp Gesher (“bridge” in Hebrew) is a subsection of the worldwide youth movement Habonim Dror (literally translated as builders of freedom). Habonim Dror is, among other things, a movement dedicated to the values of socialism, social justice, and actualization. At Gesher, I feel as if I have the most important job in the world. It is my sole purpose for two straight months to establish and develop relationships with kids in order to help them grow up to be caring and well-rounded people who feel confident in themselves and in their abilities to change the world.
Like every other truly valuable job, it is demanding and underpaid. But to me, it doesn’t matter. Nobody works at camp for the money, and for this reason, it is often considered to be a job for young teenagers. How wrong this is! Instead of being in charge of other people’s money, presentations and business deals, we are responsible for soul-shaping – the most important process a person can experience. At camp, rather than teaching children archery we have daily group discussions known as peulot, at which our campers engage in debates and discussions on topics pertaining to moral, societal, and personal issues. We encourage, rather than forbid, the girls and boys to interact and create meaningful friendships, as we believe in breaking down gender barriers. And, most importantly, we share our money.
No, we are not crazy “commies”. Rather, we believe in equal opportunities for all: campers and counselor alike participate equally in every activity. Through in-depth conversations and dialogue we empower young people to take ownership of their group’s kupah (account of shared money that each child’s parents contribute to according to their abilities), and to decide on a system of distribution with which they feel comfortable. As they experience our supplementary activities relating to equality, consumerism, and how money affects relationships, the campers most often choose to leave the money with the counselors to arrange a group trip, and focus on the far more important resource to be distributed: candy.
This may sound crazy – in fact, I know it does. It sounded crazy to me too. But after having experienced a regular summer camp before finding refuge in Gesher, I can safely say that there is no sacrificing when it comes to this socialist summer experience, only receiving. Campers kindle true friendships, ones that aren’t judged according to their parents’ bank accounts; They develop an awareness of both themselves as individuals and of those around them, through the encouragement of social awareness and action; They acquire a maturity for understanding human relationships and responsibilities that simply cannot be found when spending the entire summer trying to master the art of rope-climbing.
Sure, at Gesher we water-ski and camp out and have bonfires, but these things can be done anywhere. The essence of Gesher, what makes the barrack-bound experience not only bearable but actually a holiday yearn for all year, is the spirit of the people and the shared values that infuse campers and counselors alike with a sense of love, responsibility, and a true passion for justice in the world.