Immersion experience inspires, connects teens to Israel

Campers reunited to honor, celebrate and share the summer’s experiences and reflections with benefactor Larry Goodman last month at Mayer Kaplan JCC in Skokie. (from left) Joshua Krawitz, 17 (Buffalo Grove), Sara Wineburgh, 17 (Chicago), Abby Brown, 17 (Deerfield), Hannah Bowes, 17 (Skokie), Kevin Jacobson, 17 (Buffalo Grove), Same Welbel, 17 (Arlington Heights)

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(Skokie, IL, 2013)—Thirty JCC Camp Chi 12th grade campers took part in an engaging and eye-opening journey through Israel this past summer, enabling them to discover first-hand the sites, culture, history and personal connections to Israel. Thanks to a generous grant from the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations, this summer marks JCC Camp Chi’s third year sponsoring the Israel trip, the culmination of the camp’s summer-long Modern Israel History Program. The Program provides opportunity for teens to learn about and form connections to the Jewish state, its history and its people. Designed as a capstone experience to strengthen connections established by the program, campers return home with incredible insights, memories, friendships and experiences that will stay with them long after the trip has ended.

Campers lived and traveled side by side with native Israelis and teenage peers, American counselors and an Israeli tour guide. Through these shared experiences, campers viewed first-hand how Israelis integrate Judaism into everyday life. During the four week trip, campers traveled from the Golan Heights to Eilat, learning about Judaism, while staying at hostels, kibbutzim and even a few nights camping, exploring their religious and cultural identity in joyful, interactive ways that are impossible to produce in other settings. Discovering the similarities and differences of American and Israeli Jewish identity, campers developed a unique perspective about themselves as individuals, Jews and citizens of the world.

“It’s an amazing trip that balances education with socialization,” said Camp Chi parent Cheryl Welbel. (Arlington Heights). “The bonds that develop alongside camp friendships are like no other.”

In recognition of the support of the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations, campers reunited to honor, celebrate and share the summer’s experiences and reflections with benefactor Larry Goodman last month at Mayer Kaplan JCC in Skokie. The evening featured lively discussions of the teens’ unique experiences as they shared memories, stories, and photos, and expressed their appreciation to Goodman for his generosity and support.

“The transformative aspect of the trip was truly evident in the mature observations and emotional stories shared by our campers and their parents throughout the evening; it was incredibly moving,” said Brad Finkel, Associate Director, JCC Camp Chi.

“Although it was so new, Israel brought upon me a familiar sense of belonging much like what I feel at Camp Chi every summer,” said camper Joshua Krawitz, 17 (Buffalo Grove). “The ability to be in a place where one feels so free and proud to be a Jew is a feeling that makes me so proud to be involved in my Jewish heritage.”

The JCC Camp Chi Israel trip builds deep ties with the state of Israel for thousands of campers and staff. By providing them the opportunity to identify as Jews while experiencing what it is like to be an Israeli, JCC Camp Chi and the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations are helping to further develop a generation of informed supporters who can address portrayals of Israel in the classroom, campus, media and beyond.

“What I learned at camp helped me connect to what I experienced in Israel…The connection I have made to the State of Israel and the people will keep me coming back many more times in the future,” said camper Abby Brown, 17 (Deerfield).

For details about JCC Camp Chi, Israel Experience and Modern Israel History Program, visit or contact Rachel. For information on the Goodman Foundations, visit

JCC Camp Chi is the Midwest's premier Jewish overnight camp for boys and girls ages 9-16. Modern facilities bring campers’ summers alive with horseback riding, team sports, high ropes course, climbing tower arts and crafts, and expansive water adventure. Campers live in gender- and age-specific villages, engage in specially-tailored activities, Israel education programs, and Shabbat celebrations. At JCC Camp Chi, campers practice respect, community and kindness. Interaction and connection with other Jewish campers and Israeli staff provide the framework for pride in their Jewish heritage.

JCC Chicago is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring a strong and vibrant Jewish life and community for generations to come. JCC is a partner in serving our community, supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation.

Larry and Lillian Goodman Foundations are dedicated to strengthening Jewish life in Chicago, the United States and Israel, as well as improving the quality of life within the Chicago metropolitan area by supporting secular organizations.