Last week, Chalutzim embarked on a four-day civil rights-themed trip around the South. This included stops throughout major landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and going to the Atlanta Braves game as well as the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park. Having gone on a similar trip when I was a Chalutzim camper in 2012, I was very much looking forward to a different lineup this session. Our trip totally exceeded my already-high expectations, primarily due to the fact that I got to experience everything through my campers’ eyes.
I graduated from college with a degree in American Studies and will begin law school in August; therefore, you can accurately assume that I geeked out over every aspect of our itinerary. Though I got so much out of crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, viewing the lynching memorial in Montgomery, and watching our campers hug each other and recite Kaddish at the Paper Clips memorial (a Holocaust memorial) in Whitwell, Tennessee, knowing that a group of 50 fifteen-year-olds were inspired to make a difference upon their returns home was the best part of this entire experience.
It became evident that this current generation of teenagers and children are changing the world more than mine and any generation before me. The amount of access they have to technology and their abilities to reach millions of people with just one click is unfathomable for those of us who did not have such a privilege. Arguably, the most special moment for me throughout these four days was when a group of campers came up to me, livid that they never learned about lynchings in their American history classes, asking how they could contact their representatives and school boards to ensure this vital part of our past – and present – is correctly (and respectfully) represented on their syllabi. This sort of outrage and passion was not a part of my own Chalutzim trip, and I believe this pointedly conveys the direction we’re moving in terms of societal progress and overall human empathy.
Each unit at Coleman has a theme that we center programming around; Chalutzim’s is “why does being Jewish matter?”. Our campers and staff received wristbands after visiting the Paper Clips Memorial with this exact phrase, as that visit perfectly encapsulated why our connection to Judaism and the necessity to keep our religion and culture alive is so crucial, especially at a time where antisemitism is on the rise. Though many of us experience antisemitism in 2019, the trip further proved why we as Jews must join in solidarity with other minorities. I am so proud of our campers for their maturity, insight, and respectful manner throughout the entirety of the trip; I hope you all are, as well.