Jerusalem, Israel, July 8, 2019 – For the 16th year, OneFamily, Israel’s leading organization supporting victims of terror and their families, brought together more than 300 hundred youth to the Hermon Field School in Kibbutz Snir, for a week-long camp. Campers, ranging from age 8 to 18 experienced an array of activities that were highlighted by spending Shabbat together and a gala concert on the final night.
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed, joined the campers on Shabbat to hear their stories, share with them inspirational words and, primarily, to celebrate the Shabbat experience with them.
“When I received the invitation to join you, I immediately said yes,” said Rabbi Eliyahu. “Wherever I go, people come and ask me to bless them. But here, amongst you, I want you to bless me. Despite the pain you’ve suffered, your willpower to continue on with complete faith in G-d – it means that you have the greatest power to bless others.”
The summer camp ended with a gala concert at the Tel Hai courtyard on Monday night featuring Hatikva 6, one of Israel’s top Reggae bands who performed for the camp free of charge. Their music brought together the entire camp, including some 80 graduates who are currently in the army or doing national service and returned to take part in the festivities with their younger peers. Volunteers prepared and served an extensive BBQ menu, which included three types of chicken. The emotional evening featured children braving the stage to tell their story, their yearnings for their loved ones and how being with others like them have helped them move forward and pick up the pieces.
BJL was privileged to attend the gala, held at one of Israel's most northern locations. Its significance in the modern state of Israel noted recently by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding a meeting at the site where early pioneers returned to farm their land after a deadly Arab attack and reestablished a community.
Before the musical performance, participants took to the stage and delivered impressive speeches. “For me OneFamily is a telephone call on Friday from my counsellor, it is something I look forward to so I can talk about how I am, and it's being in touch beyond the camps, weekend meetings, and get-togethers,” said Rachel Zoldan Dvir whose father, Ido, was murdered in a drive-by shooting attack near Kedumim in November 2007.
For Raz Amrani, OneFamily is about the people, the counselors, and friends. “The connection I made here has remained throughout the years and has provided me with true friends…a special connection with people and open dialogue.” Raz’s mother Sarit was killed in a shooting attack at the entrance to Tekoa in September 2001 and his father was seriously injured.
The camp provides a respite from home life, an array of fun activities combined with therapeutic workshops and seminars.
“This camp is a place I can have fun with others like me without feeling alone or different. One of the main things that help me to overcome is being able to talk to
others about what I am going through and all the things I feel,” said Hili (Ben-Dor) Levy whose sister, Rachel, was murdered in a terror attack in Jerusalem in March 2002 and lost her father, Amos, last year in a car accident.
Campers come from all backgrounds and locations around Israel. Some have lost a close relative as recently as a few months ago, while others have been a part of One Family for more than a decade. Psychologists and social workers are among the professionals at the camp, providing support every camper.
“What is truly remarkable is the culture of support for the newer or younger campers who are still just learning to live with the grief,” said Chantal Belzberg, Executive Director of OneFamily. “The staff and professionals are there, of course, to play a key role in the process but the ‘big brother/big sister’ aspect is what really sets this experience apart for many of the participants.”
“No one at camp views my story strangely, so I can make space to cope with loss. Here, I dare to reveal my feelings and am comfortable because of the understanding and the ease that exists here, that doesn’t exist elsewhere,” said Shahar Moshe whose parents, Sharon and Yaniv Ben-Shalom, were killed in a shooting attack in August 2001. Her mother threw herself on top of Shahar and her sister to prevent them from being hurt.
One child, when asked if his parents had signed permission to be photographed, responded, "I have no parents." The photo essay has been carefully screened to provide privacy to family requests but to also try and show the joy and fun of the participants plus the magnificent scenery of the northern mountain location. Marc Belzberg who has supported his wife Chantal in her work appeared to be enjoying himself as much as the children, especially meeting up with the older participants. The post-high school age "graduates" are called "Sabim and Savtot" (grandfathers and grandmothers) and were given pink tee-shirts to wear to signify their special status. On the shirts was written, "שכול בקבע" - bereft always. However, the smiles at the end of the summer camp evening of these young people, who suffered terrible family tragedies, exude resilience.
Founded in 2001, OneFamily is a unique family of professionals, volunteers, supporters and victims, bereaved, maimed and traumatized, young and old, Jews and non-Jews. OneFamily overcoming terror together, show the power of together.