The Power of Together at OneFamily Camp

All of the children at the William Goldberg OneFamily Passover Camp feel a sense of belonging, a sense of trust and security.

As I gazed out over a field filled with close to 300 red T-shirts, I couldn’t help but be struck by the incredible energy, joy and happiness that swept the entire area. Nine stations were set up in a large circle around the edge of the field, each with a fun activity loosely related to the theme of one of the Plagues in Egypt. Two of the “plagues”, blood and hail, were combined in one station, where the children were given glasses of red ice drinks (called “Barad” in Hebrew, also the word for “hail”), which they could either drink or throw at each other.

Between the stations, a group of boys commandeered a number of soccer balls and proceeded to engage in a very energetic game of contrived rugby (no boundaries, no points – just chasing the ball and each other). And they managed to do it without running into any of the other people constantly walking across the field.

I tried to identify groups of campers, clutches that would stick together. I tried to find a group of the younger boys, the intermediate Co-Ed group, or some of the girls – and I couldn’t. Whenever a group of four or more campers came together – to talk, joke, or join in a game together – they just as soon broke apart and drifted to join other groupings. There was an almost seamless sense of one large mass of campers and counselors – all wearing those bright red T-shirts, and all sharing a joke, a smile, laughter, a brief dance, a shouted song, and tremendous camaraderie.

Over the course of the day, I managed to pull aside seven campers to speak to each one individually. I asked them about themselves, how old they are, where they live, how long they have been in OneFamily’s Youth Division, what OneFamily gives them, what their dreams are, and where they see themselves in 10-15 years.

The one thing that each of the campers told me was that the strongest sense they get from OneFamily’s camps is a sense of togetherness. When I asked Oz, a 12-year-old boy whose father was murdered almost 10 years ago, what strength OneFamily gives him, he didn’t even bat an eyelash. With strong conviction, he told me, in so many words, “Koach Ha-Beyachad” – “The Power of Together”. When I showed him those exact words on the back of my own T-shirt, he responded, “See? Exactly!”

Another theme that was repeated by many of the campers is that at OneFamily, they have an increased sense of safety. They feel they can talk about their deepest feelings with anyone. One girl, Yuval, lost her sister in a bombing attack in 2003, when she was just 5 years old. She told me that she has lots of friends in her every-day life. She is a member of the Scouts movement, and is a very sociable girl in school. But with the exception of a few very close friends, she can’t share her deepest sorrow or her occasional floods of emotion with anyone. “Here,” she said, “even someone I don’t know that well automatically understands me. My friends are more real here. We can share everything with each other. Even the deepest, most secret emotions are regular topics of conversation here.”

Shalom, an 18-year-old whose brother was murdered four years ago, agreed. “I can talk about anything here. Sometimes I talk at my school. I stand up before the whole school on Memorial Day or something, and I talk to them about my brother. But here, I can talk in full, in dialogue, not just on my own. Last night, for instance, we stayed up after our activities until 1:45 talking. The whole group with our counselor. We talked about memorialization and remembrance, and how hard it is sometimes to carry this pain around constantly. It wasn’t anything formal, just a chance to talk and open up. And at the end, we all went to bed much lighter in the heart.”

Shalom mentioned another theme that was common among the campers. “Everyone is open here. There is no tension. When I first came to camp, everyone got to know me as I am. I didn’t need a mask. In fact, one of the main purposes of OneFamily is to create a place where there are no masks.”

Herut, an 18-year-old whose father was murdered 11 years ago, echoed that statement. “They like me and accept me for who I am. I don’t need to pretend here. There is such a strong and warm connection here – a connection that lasts throughout the year – that I don’t need any other place. This is where I can be myself.”

Herut went much further in describing her connection to OneFamily. “We all share black humor, we share our painful situations, our pain and longing and our memories. And it’s all completely understood and accepted.

“I owe a lot to OneFamily,” she continued. “ It is an integral part of my growing up. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without OneFamily. Because of OneFamily, I understand that there is a legitimate place for my feelings. ”

Nisan, a 17-year-old whose sister was murdered 9 years ago in a bus bombing, also expressed his gratitude to OneFamily.

“I stopped coming to camp for a few years,” he said, “but they kept calling and inviting me to come back. Two years ago, I started participating again. At one point, they encouraged me to get up on a stage and play the drums a little. From that moment, with the reception I got there, I felt a huge change come over me. They brought out my musical potential, and showed me that my dream to be a musician could be a reality. Just putting me on that stage brought out my potential, and now, I am a one-man band.

“They really give you your life back.”

What was certain on this day is that all of the children at the William Goldberg OneFamily Passover Camp feel a sense of belonging, a sense of trust and security. This is the place where they can depend on each other to gain strength; where they can be themselves – because of each other. And THAT is the Power of Together.