Aug 7, 2007 — For Rebecca Halpern, working with teenagers in Yerucham in the Negev during July made the summer of 2007 one she will always remember. “It felt so good for me to help the teens,” the Stern College for Women student said. “And it meant so much to them. Every morning they would come in with a smile and hug.”
Halpern, 20, was one of five female and three male undergraduates from Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women, along with three Israeli counselors who spent July working as part of a community service project, the Zusman Family Counterpoint Israel Program, run by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF).
They ran a three-week summer camp for 35 teens between the ages of 12 and 16 years old, which was established last year by Shuki Taylor, CJF’s director of Israel programs and operations.
“The students ran the camp from soup to nuts,” said Aliza Abrams, program director for the CJF’s Department of Community Initiatives, who spent the first two weeks getting the program up and running with Zvi Friedman, camp director.
“They created and facilitated daily workshops for the campers, which incorporated computer training, English worksheets, and multi-media presentations,” Abrams said.
The YU students ran programs that explored issues such as peer pressure, low self-esteem, and setting goals with the campgoers, and organized the sports activities and arts and crafts workshops. A local English teacher pitched in to help the teens improve their English language skills.
Jeremy Zisholtz brought his love of sports to Yerucham, helping students with their soccer skills. “At first, it was the only sport they would think about, until I got them interested in baseball,” he said. “And by the time we left, they were playing the game well!”
According to Taylor, the children’s parents saw a marked difference in their children when the program drew to a close at the end of July.
One boy who had a severe stutter had excelled in the camp’s art activities. “At the closing event, we gave him two awards, an art set and a trophy for best improvement,” Taylor said. “His mother came up to me afterward, crying. She said that this camp was a miracle: it changed her son. She had never seen him so motivated. She had never seen him win an award. This family walked home, hand in hand, as if floating on a cloud.”
Abrams summed up the camp’s impact: “The level of commitment shown by the Yeshiva University undergrads made this summer a life-changing experience for the Israeli campers as well as for the students themselves.”