Shlichim bring Israeli perspective to Camp BB Riback

Avital Apartsev dreamed of going to a sleep-away camp when she was a child. The movies that she saw featured these camps, fueled her desire. Living in Israel, there was not an opportunity for this. Instead, Avital attended youth groups where they would camp outside for a week and had to build their sleeping arrangements. 

“I begged my parents to send me to a camp abroad. When I found out at 17 that I can get into a program that sends me to a camp, I decided I wanted to go as a counsellor,” says Avital.

The 20-year-old had experienced two summers as a counsellor at a day camp in the United States. But she was still vying to have her dream of a sleep-away camp fulfilled.

“It’s a sense of belonging to a community. There’s something magical about a place where you can only stay for a short time. I wanted something like this. This is how childhood looks like,” explains Avital.

She discovered the shlichim (Israeli emissary) program when she was finishing her service with the Israel Defense Forces. Representatives from the Jewish Agency for Israel visit army bases to spread the word and promote the program through social media. When Avital signed up for the program, she could only choose if she preferred a day camp or an overnight camp, not which country. When she heard the news that they accepted her as shlichim by the Jewish Agency to spend the summer at Camp BB Riback this year, she was thrilled. She immediately searched online where Pine Lake was located and what Camp BB looked like.

Avital is one of three shilchilm hired by Camp BB, with funding from Calgary Jewish Federation and supported by the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. The Jewish Agency sent 1,500 shlichim between the ages of 19-25 to 158 camps across North America, thanks to financial aid from 146 Federations. The shlichim hail from all around Israel and come from a variety of backgrounds, in a genuine display of the country’s diversity.

“Each year, Jewish Federations partner with The Jewish Agency to bring hundreds of shlichim to our communities. These Israel & Overseas investments by Jewish Federations make possible countless moments of spirited singing around the campfire and meaningful discussions at the camp cafeteria table, which leave indelible marks on the hearts of young Jews in North America and Israel and help strengthen the relationship between North American Jewry and Israel for years to come,” says Jeffrey Schoenfeld, chair of Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel & Overseas Committee.

Camp BB Director Stacy Shaikin appreciates the partnership he has with the Edmonton and Calgary Federations. “We’re all working towards encouraging Jewish life. We focus on leadership and community. We’re community builders,” he says.

Not only has Avital found a community at Camp BB, but she also has learned more about Canadian Jews and developed new skills. Her role is the program coordinator for Ruach—children between 10 and 12-years-old. She builds evening programs and supervises the counsellors.

“We don’t really know about Jewish communities outside of Israel. They have different struggles, but I learned no matter where you are that all Jewish people love community. In Canada, you really must work hard to practice your Judaism, to connect to it, and to feel comfortable about it. For us, it’s very easy to practice Judaism,” she says.

Her campers have also been learning more about Israel from her personal perspective. In one activity, she had them draw what a Canadian Jew and an Israeli Jew look like. Then they had a discussion based on the drawings. Avital has also talked to them about her army experience, which she says differed from working at Camp BB.

“I’m so happy at Camp BB. I grew up in a month more than I did in the army. I’m taking care of 26 kids and that is a tremendous responsibility. It makes you grow up. I’m anxious about what they ate, whether they slept, if they took a shower, or if they fell. But I love it and I’m very grateful for this opportunity,” says Avital.

After Avital finishes her work at the camp, she is planning to extend her stay in Canada to see more of the country. She hopes she can return to Camp BB next summer.