What’s Happening at Ramah
Israeli visitors offer alternate view
by William Sweet, August 2006
(This article first appeared in The Springfield Republican on August 8, 2006.)
PALMER, MA - Asked about her friends serving in Lebanon, Adi Koren knocks on the picnic table for luck.
"It's really hard to be away, when you know every day, something could happen," says her friend, Galor Laor.
The two young women, recently soldiers in the Israeli army, are among a group of more than 30 Israelis on staff this summer at Camp Ramah in New England , a summer camp for about 750 teens and children. The Palmer facility is part of a network of summer camps sponsored by The Jewish Theological Seminary..
"I feel what we are doing here is very right. ... We're on a mission to bring Israel to the kids," said Koren, 20.
For almost as long as there has been a modern state of Israel, the Jewish Agency has been sending emissaries to the Palmer camp, said Yedida Tzivoni, who is in charge of the group here.
"It's kind of like living two lives," said Laor. They are both here and not here, enjoying camp with their young American charges, but daily catching up with friends back home. Tzivoni hangs on each report: Her 19-year-old daughter Noa is serving on the Lebanon border.
"I'm scared, so scared," she said. "My body's here, but my soul is there."
Her daughter recently had a three-day respite from the battle zone to attend the funeral of her best friend, who was killed in fighting last week.
For three of the Israelis at Ramah, the end of camp in two weeks signals a possible return to battle. Amitai Golub, 21, one of the three, is ready to return.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to my base," said Golub, who teaches the ropes course at Ramah. He said the troops' mood could be better.
"I wouldn't say 'worried,' but perhaps 'concerned,'" he said. "Everyone's united, but no one's happy."
"There's an old army saying," he said. "Suffering in the past tense is life experience."
The battle here is in the court of public opinion. Part of their work is to give a firsthand account, to counter reports critical of Israel 's actions. They said that reports are tainted with false accounts: For instance, they noted that the Reuters News Agency has admitted to running a doctored photograph of downtown Beirut , exaggerating the damage inflicted by an Israeli attack.
"(The campers) are exposed, but what they get is from the TV," Koren said. "We're getting news from real sources."
Though she has finished her tour, Koren remains connected to the Israel Defense Forces. During her tour of duty, she trained soldiers to use heavy weaponry.
"All the soldiers I trained are now in Lebanon , using the tools I gave them to fight with," she said. "They are shooting all the time. It's scary."
Laor came to Ramah fresh from finishing her tour, where she educated soldiers. She and the others see education as the key to Israel 's success and the best hope for peace.
"It all starts and ends in education," Koren said. "(The Palestinians) need a real education. (Their ruling party) Hamas is a social party, but they are terrorists. They teach children to hate every Jew alive."
"There are people my age in Gaza who want a peaceful life," she said.
"We just want to feel safe in our own country," Laor said. "We are sick of war."
They challenge some Americans' ideas about the war.
"It's a war," said Koren. "We are fighting against terrorists, we are trying to stop the Hezbollah. We are not trying to injure innocent people."