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Teenage Leaders "Welcome the Stranger" at this Local Summer Camp for Refugee Children

By: Lucy Beckett and Denise Crevin

I strongly believe in the power of empowering others to pursue their passions.  As Director of Education at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, I look for ways to provide opportunities for learners to connect to their Judaism and “do Jewish” in a way that matters to them.  Lucy Beckett is a powerful example of a teen who took her Jewish education and led other teens in our congregation and community to take action in a very Jewish and very meaningful way.  Here is the story of what she created and why.

Lucy: Every couple of days, I’d get another news notification on my phone, and a rush of sadness would come over me. I couldn’t get headlines like “Body of Syrian Child found on Turkish Beach” and “President Donald Trump Orders Second Travel Ban” out of my mind. I needed to do something, anything to help.

Throughout  history, Jews have been in the same position. We as Jews are told “You shall welcome the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped there. History has repeated itself again and again. From the Spanish Inquisition to the more recent Holocaust, the diaspora of Jews has given us a call to action unlike any other to assist those fleeing violence, persecution, and seeking a place to call home. Of course, our similar pasts hasn’t been the only encouragement for us to assist immigrants and refugees. Judaism instills the important values that reminds us we must continue to stand up and speak out for not only ourselves, but others as well. When driving past Congregation B’nai Israel, you’ll see what many refer to as “the golden rule” written in big letters. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

We sing “Fixing the World” to little ones in Sunday School to teach the value of Tikkun Olam. Reading Pirkei Avot, you’ll learn “It is not your duty to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” After all of these teachings, it’s no wonder Jews have become so passionate about fighting for social justice, especially on behalf of immigrants and refugees.

During my Confirmation year (10th grade), my class chose to go on the URJ Mitzvah Corps experience in Seattle, which included working at a summer camp for refugee children. I was so in awe of how impactful the experience was for teens and kids alike, that I took the idea to the clergy and Director of Education at my Synagogue to see about implementing a similar camp in Sacramento to assist the large refugee and immigrant populations closer to my home.  They were more than happy to support my idea and so my synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel, partnered with Opening Doors, a local refugee agency to help make this camp a reality in the summer of 2018. Camp Nefesh (meaning soul in hebrew) runs completely on donations, and is staffed entirely by teenage volunteers from throughout the Sacramento area.  It was clear from the beginning that funding was needed so we crafted a message to help others understand the mission of Camp Nefesh and what donations and grants would go towards.  

I wanted the camp to be teen-run and teen-led because I wanted to empower my peers to advocate and take action for what they believe in as well. Refugees and immigrants often have poor representation in the media, but Camp Nefesh enabled us to put refugees and immigrants in a more positive light. The camp has been featured in several news articles, including pieces in the Sacramento Bee, GoodDay Sacramento, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and more. Camp Nefesh has also received numerous awards and recognition by such organizations as the Helen Diller Family Foundation, Sacramento City Council, Girl Scouts of America, the Union for Reform Judaism, and more.  I know Camp Nefesh hasn’t fixed the world, but I hope that it’s done a little bit to help us move in the right direction.

Denise: Camp Nefesh has served nearly 150 refugee children and involved 100 teen volunteers since its inception in Summer 2018.  We have raised nearly $25,000 in donations and grants to cover the costs of camper transportation, supplies, food and more.  Our fundraising efforts have included direct asks, grant applications, social media publicity, and have taught all involved how to explain the why of supporting Camp Nefesh.  We have witnessed the power of a group of teens working together to address a concern and create a way to help them make the world a better place.  Looking ahead we will continue to explore different avenues like Jewish teen philanthropy and advocacy to help our teens further develop their skills.  Providing our teens with knowledge, helping them find their passions and then mentoring them to make a difference is one of the many blessings of being a Jewish educator.  Here’s to Summer 2020 of Camp Nefesh!

 

For more information about Camp Nefesh, visit https://www.cbisacramento.org/nefesh