JCC to serve campers Israeli hi-tech

JCC to serve campers Israeli hi-tech

Campers at the original Big Ideas program in Israel.
Campers at the original Big Ideas program in Israel.

For decades there have been many Israelis at American Jewish summer camps, bringing Hebrew songs, a taste for falafel, and Zionism to their American cousins.

Now Israel is exporting high-tech teachers.

For its newest summer offering, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades is importing a made-in-Israel program from Big Idea, which offers camps in Israel that focus on high technology. In Tenafly, the day camp will be for third- through ninth-graders.

The Big Idea @ the JCC Hi Tech Camp comes in two varieties: English and Hebrew, the latter for Israeli families living here who want their children to be proficient in Hebrew.

The programs will combine high-tech topics such as computer graphics, film production, and app development with standard camp activities such as swimming.

“It’s about having fun, and getting the kids to learn about fields they never would have been exposed to,” said Sharon Goren, the JCC’s marketing manager. “We hope they will get motivated, get new ideas, be creative, see that there are a lot of things they can do.”

In Israel, this year will be Big Idea’s ninth summer running tech-focused summer programs. Its flagship is a two-week sleepaway program that is expected to draw 900 campers from around the world. Big Idea will provide the curriculum for the JCC camp, as well as half of its counselors; the others will be Hebrew speakers from New Jersey.

Roni Livnat of Big Idea selected the Israeli counselors, who are “all over 18 and experts in their field,” she said. Some are programmers; others are veterans of Israeli robotic leagues. “All of them are educators, with experience in summer camps or youth movements or as teachers or counselors,” she said. “All are fluent in Hebrew and English.” They also are being trained in representing Israel abroad by the Jewish Agency.

Ms. Livnat went through Jewish Agency training herself. She spent two years as a shlicha, representing Israel in a youth movement in Melbourne, Australia.

There will be one counselor for every seven or eight campers, she said. “We do it in very very small groups. We keep it very interactive,” she said.

Yael Feibish of Creskill is looking forward to her children being at the camp. She is American and her husband is Israeli, “so our kids are a combination. We’re raising them in a bilingual home, trying to teach them what is important to us about Israel, trying to have them learn things about Israel without being there. This summer is a perfect opportunity for that,” she said.

“This camp will have them, I hope, comfortably speaking Hebrew, and learning other things they can’t quite learn in a Hebrew class, like a song or what kind of games kids play in Israel.”

Last summer, her children attended a local camp for Israeli children where they learned the ball game called gaga. “I’m hoping they’re going to get really excited about gaga again,” she said.

“The other really interesting aspect of this camp is the technological side of it,” she added. “It’s not going to be a frontal academic kind of environment — they have enough of that during the year. It will have them have fun with technology. They have choices like digital photography, 3D modeling, some stuff that I honestly didn’t know what it was that just sounded cool.

“It made me want to learn some of these things myself.”

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