Over Hanukkah, JACC ran five intensive mornings of programming for twelve kids from sixth to ninth grade. The camp included returning children from JACC's summer activities, along with a few new faces.
From the moment we called to spread the word about our Hanukkah camp, the excitement of the children was clear. Most of the kids who already had my number started texting me questions about the activities, the food and the counselors. Would we go back to the horse stables? Would we go to the pool? Would we eat pizza?
We tried as much as possible to grant their wishes. We went back to the stables, went for a trip to the Sataf where they swam in the stream, went to see a movie at Yes-Planet. And of course we ate pizza.
The most meaningful event was the visit to the horses, where the children who already rode in the summer remembered the horses' names and were as enthusiastic as if they were meeting old friends. (And they also showed off in front of the new kids who'd never been there).
None of the new children had ever been with or ridden horses. Their excitement and fear were written all over their faces. Two of them told me the moment we arrived that there was no chance they'd come near this scary, unfamiliar, unknown animal. But the moment that they saw how comfortable the other children were (which cannot be taken for granted as they'd also been hesitant in the summer and had needed up to an hour of convincing before becoming pros), overcame their fear. In the end, they all learned to ride and talk to, clean and look after the horses.
The experience was so special, that at the end of the activity, Yotam, the manager of the farm, invited us to bring the kids on a regular basis.
Another experience which began with concern of but ended with bravery and heroism was the trip on the last day to the Sataf.
Some of the kids didn't want to come, and claimed that they were missing hats and shoes, complained that they didn't like hiking, and gave all excuses they could. It was clear that they were not acquainted with and feared nature.
But they all came, walked, listened attentively to the guide's explanations of the various trees, the landscape, and the area's history. They asked questions and experienced nature in all its glory. They all helped each other, entered the water again and again and did not want the trip to end.
How can I be sure that our Hanukkah programming was a success?
By the end of camp, there wasn't a kid who was unwilling to share stories about how much fun camp was. There was one thing that confirmed what they were saying in the most tangible way - one day we went to see the film Plant Planet where some of the children saw Wonder Woman and some saw Codo.
For the following two hours, they did not stop talking about the movies and telling each other what they saw. As a result, they decided to go to Yes Planet together again, outside of the camp. For me this was a sign for our success. Children who hadn't met just five days before had become good friends that they wanted to hang out again.
For me there is no better outcome to this.