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Israeli emissaries enhance day camp experience at The J

Israeli shaliach Rotem Cohen assists a BOOM! Camper during archery lessons. BOOM! is one of the many summer camps offered by the Jewish Community Center.

For the 24th year, the Jewish Community Center (The J) is hosting Israeli shlichot to help with both Barney Goodman and BOOM! day camp programs. This year two young women, post military service, Rotem Cohen and Amit Marom, are here for the summer.

Both are excited to be part of the shaliach program and are loving their time in Kansas City. Marom, who is from Kfar Saba, has wanted to be part of the shaliach program since she was 16. She participated in the Partnership 2000 program with a group from Columbus, Ohio, where the groups visited each other’s cities for three weeks. While in Columbus, Marom went the JCC there and met the shaliach. She saw what an unbelievable experience it was, and wanted to be part of the program.

“I knew I wanted to do this when I finished the army,” Marom said.  “So the moment they opened registration, I applied.”

The application process includes interviews and simulations through the Jewish Agency. Both girls passed and were assigned to The J summer day camp programs. They received training with others who were assigned to the Midwest to work at day camps. Other groups received different training to work in overnight camps.

“They taught us how a day camp works — the schedule, what we do, games and dances and activities we can plan,” Cohen said. “They spoke about American culture and Israeli culture, as well as the differences. This was excellent! They showed us what it was like to be a camper.”

At camp both serve as senior counselors. Marom is with first- and second-grade girls in Barney Goodman, while Cohen works in the BOOM! Camp. Both teach their campers about Israel. Each week they have a different topic, such as a city, sports or Hebrew, and focus activities on that topic.

“It is wonderful to share about Israel, especially in this camp where there are many children who are not Jewish,” Cohen said. “I can share the knowledge with children who have no idea about Israel and Hebrew, something that is important to me to do. I want to talk to people around world and tell them about my country.”

Both girls say being in Kansas City is like being in a dream. “I lived in the U.S. before, but in a different part of the country (New Jersey),” Cohen said. “So I did research on the internet to see what it was like in Kansas City. We were very surprised when we came here. It is very green and beautiful. It feels like you are in a dream.”

But it is not just the scenery that the shlichot are enjoying. They love the atmosphere and the people they work with at The J and the people they meet outside.

“The Jewish community here makes being a shaliach really special. So many questions that are interesting,” Marom said. “The people are so welcoming. Besides the good times at camp, I am having a good time outside of camp. It is amazing and unbelievably good.”

Cohen adds on to what Marom said.

“I think we have an impact not only at camp. If we were at an overnight camp, we would never go out. But here you have host families and other people to meet,” Cohen said. “You have an impact on other people. They can ask you questions, and you can talk about it. We continue to shlichot outside of camp.”

They agree that being in Kansas City has changed them and their perspective.

“I have changed in the way I look at things,” Marom said. “In Israel the things that seem obvious to us are not obvious here. For example, celebrating a holiday. We arrived on Shavout. In Israel we are off for Shavout, but here people chose to celebrate it. It is different.”

Cohen was surprised at the number of non-Jewish people who chose to be part of the community.

“It is a community that people chose to be a part of,” she said. Even people who are not Jewish want to join The J. I thought I was going to be at a camp for Jewish children. But half the children are not Jewish, even the staff. That they want to be part of it is something I have not seen in my life. It changed my perspective of Israel.”

During their time here the shlichot are staying in the homes of members of the Jewish community. Every three to four weeks they change their residence.

“This whole experience is amazing,” Marom said. “I thought it would be good, but did not realize how much the staff, the campers and the community would welcome us. I feel lucky to be here.”

The J is happy to have them as well.

“Amit and Rotem are very good at working with children. In addition to sharing their Israeli experiences with the youth and staff, they are able to provide a fun program for our campers,” said DD Gass, director of camps and school-age services at The J.

“J Camp benefits from having shlichot join us as camp staff for the summer in so many ways. They bring new ideas and their love of Israel to our programs,” Gass added. “Our campers enjoy learning more about Israel and love saying their counselor is from Israel. The staff is able to understand a little better about the life of young people in Israel. Our campers love the Israeli food activities the best, but also enjoy learning about birthday traditions and other every day differences between the lives of children in Israel and the United States.”

Marom and Cohen will be in Kansas City area until Aug. 6. Then they plan to travel through the U.S. together for a month. When they return to Israel, Marom will spend only a short time there before going to medical school in Brno, the Czech Republic. Cohen plans to take the college entrance exams and then travel to South America before she starts college. Both want to continue to work with children.

“I have always wanted to be a pediatrician,” Marom said. “But now I have no doubt that is what I want to do.”

“The experience here has me thinking more and more to be a psychologist for children,” Cohen said. “Here you also have special needs children in the camp. I think it is so wonderful that you include them here. It makes me think that I should be doing something for them.”