Counterpoint 2019: A Student Volunteer Reflects

This summer for the 14th consecutive year, Yeshiva University conducted the Counterpoint Israel Program (CPI), an immersive service-learning initiative that looks to enhance the English-language skills of at-risk Israeli youth. By so doing, it empowers Israeli teenagers with a sense of self-worth while instilling a sense of civic responsibility within the program’s YU student counselors. Counterpoint’s chief vehicle is a fun but challenging summer camp experience based on Jewish values.

From July 9 to July 25, 2019, CPI returned to three Israeli development towns: Kiryat Malachi, Arad and Dimona. More than 130 Israeli campers from different socio-economic backgrounds participated.

YU News sat down with Bella Adler ’20S, who served as one of three camp directors/head counselors for Counterpoint’s summer 2019 program. Here are her thoughts on how participation in this unique initiative has taken her community activism into a new direction.

Counterpoint runs English-language immersion camps in three Southern cities in Israel: Kiryat Malachi, Arad and Dimona. For each city, eight Yeshiva University students are recruited to work as counselors in the day camps. Duties include one hour of English language instruction followed by a variety of counselor-led activities involving sports, art lessons, drum circles, board game competitions and master chef experiences.

This summer I returned to Kiryat Malachi where I had been a camp counselor the previous year, and I can honestly say that this summer far exceeded my expectations. And that’s not because I had an easier time with it. Quite the contrary. This summer taught me more about perspective, privilege, education and love than I ever imagined. It was a summer of immense growth and reward.

My position as one of three camp directors/head counselors required me to befriend, advise and mentor more than 40 students in our camp.  Our goal was to help these young Israelis, many of whom have never left their towns in Southern Israel, to forge a path toward a brighter future and to build the confidence to realize their dreams.

Each of the three camp directors also served as mentors to the YU camp counselors, helping them organize lesson plans and strategize solutions for specific students. When the day camp ended at 2:45 p.m., we organized “camp for counselors.” There we would debrief on the day’s activities over a family-style dinner and initiate evening activities designed to tighten the bonds among us. My favorite group bonding experiences included competitive bowling, s’mores and sunset on the beach, meditation sessions under the stars, YouTube paint night and class-themed cake wars.

One of the most important lessons I learned this summer can be best described as “having the courage to stay.”  Having the courage to stay means understanding the far-reaching importance of not walking away from challenging situations. Every day our counselors led six hours of camp with young Israelis who seemed distant. Often our ability to communicate with them was hindered by the language barrier. In many instances, it would have been far easier for a counselor to sit in a staff room during lunch than to engage in a conversation in broken Hebrew. But we stayed the course and attempted to overcome the difficulties presented by language and culture. It is only through mastering challenges like these that we are forced to see the world in a new light.

I am eternally grateful to Yeshiva University for the Counterpoint experience. While many YU students spend a gap year in Israel, myself included, very few of us will ever have an experience of living in a community in Southern Israel teaching English.

Counterpoint teaches us that regardless of how we look or present ourselves, each person has a deep story to share. It actively demonstrates that although we may look and practice Judaism differently, we can unite around love, community and building dreams. Counterpoint shows us that we must never take our gifts for granted; in addition, this unique program reminds us that as Jewish people we have a responsibility to put our differences aside to help others.

While eight YU students intentionally came together in Kiryat Malachi to run a camp for at-risk youth, we unintentionally became a family of our own who will forever share in this lifelong memory we call “counterpoint.” Thank you, YU, for opening my eyes to a whole new Israeli population with whom I might not have have engaged, for the experience of interacting with and befriending a whole new Jewish community and for the opportunity to develop and lead a team of YU student change-makers.

Group photo of Counterpoint counselors
Bella Adler (second from left, standing) and her fellow counselors