Last year I came to camp for the first time. A lot of my life since then has been shaped around UP: both American and Middle Eastern acquaintances became some of my closest friends, and my academic thought seemed to always come back to the conflict. I was in awe of what I had somehow been a part of in 2016. Everything about it seemed so powerful and deep, and that it was solving problems.
As an American teenager at camp being ignorant and carrying the fewest prejudices with you can, in some ways, be of benefit. Our job is not to be involved in or insert ourselves into serious discussions, especially with the language barrier. After camp in 2016, however, my eyes were wide open and I couldn’t help but try to expand my understanding and narrow my ignorance. Without realizing it, this effort would change the way I walked into the Kfar Silver gates the second time.
In the seven days leading up to camp this year I had a transformative journey through various communities. As a foreigner and guest in overly-hospitable homes it was not my place to impose or be a loud presence. Instead, I asked for people’s stories and listened intently. In the end, these stories are the single most driving factors in our lives and to have another person share them with you provides the most intimate view into their experience and values. These personal interactions and conversations said face-to-face hit me physically and never left my thoughts. Because of how these stories affected me I came to camp looking through a specific lens. This was not an experience unique to me in the US LIT program and soon whispers of “Why does camp feel so different this year?” spread. Was camp actually different than it was the year before, or were we just so unaware of the intricacies of it all when we came in 2016?
This year my position at camp was a step higher than it had been the year before, and I was exposed to more of the planning stages and nitty-gritty details of UP. As the year’s planning by everyone in the organization came together in the long orientation days, the imperfections of the system were exposed. Thoughts of “why does this feel harder than last year?” and “we didn’t have this problem last year, right?” continued to come up. The fact I was doubting UP in any form scared me considering how much I relied on it over the previous twelve months.
Then the campers came. Over the week I experienced few “big moments” of deep and powerful implications which I seemed to only have the year before. This was confusing and continued thoughts of doubt, but as I look back I see the wonder in all of the small moments. The best and purest ‘good’ from camp came from the campers, and this ‘good’ was consistently from the seemingly insignificant details. I woke up each morning genuinely excited to see them regardless of the amount sleep I had gotten. I looked forward to the smile I might get from a 12 year old boy from Raanana or the enthusiastic jumping high five I may get from the 13 year girl from Tamra. I looked forward to the short laugh between two new friends during an ice breaking activity or when teammates hugged after a long day. Soon it didn’t matter what thoughts of doubt may had been creeping into my head; all I cared about was creating a positive, and unique, environment for my campers. The feeling I got from witnessing these little things is something entirely special to UP and something I can’t quite put my finger on.
Last year the concept of little connections was so new to me that I was incapable of seeing camp for what it really was. Ultimate Peace doesn’t solve the conflict. Ultimate Peace doesn’t pass legislation. Ultimate Peace isn’t about the powerful or deep moments. Ultimate Peace does something much more subtle: it lays the foundation for unprecedented bridges for the hundreds of young people it touches.
This year I found my lens and pushed myself to use it and not ignore it. This year I realized that UP is personal and forces you to care for all other members of the UP community deeply and genuinely. And maybe that’s the reason I cried so hard when my campers left.