As Habo chanichim across New Zealand prepare to pack their bags to spend ten amazing days under the care of the farmland and the forest, the madrichim body can only imagine how the parents of our chanichim feel as they prepare to say good bye to their children.
I’m not a parent, so I have literally no idea what you as parents could possibly be thinking. Are you excited to get rid of the kids for ten days? Are you anxious about whether or not they’ll have enough underwear? Are you eager for them to have the same life-changing experiences you had on camp? Or are you worried that they’ll suffer being away from home for so long?
Spoiler alert: they’ll be fine.
We can never guarantee that camp will run smoothly. In fact, we can guarantee that there will be hiccups, that things won’t go according to plan, and that as a camp and a movement, we will face new challenges every day. However, as madrichim, we never shy away from a challenge; the 2016 new year was rung in amidst tents falling down and trenches overflowing, but we all agreed that we wouldn’t have wanted to face those challenges with any other people. As the people you trust to look after your children, we have a commitment to instilling those same values in our chanichim, and encouraging the same head-on attitude when it comes to the tough stuff.
Along with New Year’s Eve in a storm, Habo ANZ has had no shortage of challenges over the years. Machane of 2009, or “Flood Camp,” as it’s affectionately referred to, saw not only the madrichim band together, but also saw the chanichim aim shovels towards trenches to add their hands to those of their madrichim. As this year began, an unexpected bout of rain caused the banks of the Bond Farm’s beloved river to swell. Water levels continued to rise as they lapped against the outskirts of the campsite, and showed no signs of slowing down.
“The first flood struck at night,” says Tali Josephs, seasoned madricha and flood veteran. The chanichim were in awe of the madrichim stripping heavy, sodden jeans and hoodies that were holding them back, picking up shovels and getting to work on emergency trenches. As water levels rose and penetrated the tent walls, chanichim joined the efforts to dig, with younger chanichim being led to higher ground by those who had responsibility thrust upon them. Bags and mattresses floated away amidst the downpour, and all chalutzim worked effortlessly into the night to impede the river’s advances.
“We tried to stave off the flood for ages, and then the bridge to camp got swept away and the digger couldn’t cross the river anymore. And so we had to do like a mass exodus across a bunch of fields and walk back to the main road,” says Jarryd Peterson, 14 years old at the time. Eventually, the camp was evacuated. Chanichim were bussed back to the moadon where belongings were piled ceiling high to be sorted through. Sodden and resembling cats after a bath, chanichim congratulated each other on a job amazingly done, despite an unexpected end to a groundbreaking camp. When asked how they feel looking back on the event, Tali and Jarryd agree that there was no feeling of danger at the time, just “pure adrenaline.” Having all banded together to work through a momentous occasion, the chanichim reflect on the experience as a time that brought Habonim Dror together; chanichim and madrichim of all ages threw aside personal hesitations, and got to work on saving their camp and looking after their friends.
Movement-wide bonding is inevitable in any high-pressure situation. Chanichim often show immense maturity and growth through any crisis, but that’s not to say that chanichim don’t find individual growth in themselves at any opportunity.
Last summer, Rose and I welcomed shtillim to the camp amongst a similar downpour. Luckily there was no flooding, but it did not make for the most welcoming environment for a young, first time camper. One memorable chanich was walked down the path with his parents under shelter of an umbrella, but refused to let go of his father’s hand. We spent time with him, explaining what the plan for the day would be and how the weekend would look; we promised that the rain would clear up, but it was clear that he had no intention of staying. As his parents peeled themselves from his clutches, we had to hold him as he attempted to run back to dad. As we did, he exclaimed the most heartbreaking “HELP ME!” I’ve ever heard in my life. We promised to call Mum and Dad if there were any issues and they continued walking through their own heartbreak, and we got a promise from him (amidst his screams of “PLEASE TAKE ME WITH YOU”) that he’d give us ten minutes to walk him around camp.
The first stop was our friends in Mitbach and Machsan, who welcomed the new chanich with tours or their tent and stories of their own time as chanichim. We walked to point out where he’d be sleeping and making HEAPS of new friends, and we walked up the hill to point out where the big kids would be. By the time we arrived at the admin to tents to introduce our new friend to the camp parents and doctor, the tears had dried up, and conversation was flowing. I cannot express in words how drastic the emotional turnaround was, from minute one to minute ten. Although he remains one of the quiet ones, this chanich has continued to show development throughout the year at Auckland Ken, and is now surely a leader of his shichva and of Auckland. We know ten minute turnarounds aren’t the norm, but we love to look back on this as an example of how the most heartbreaking stories can lead children to the most drastic displays of growth imaginable.
As madrichim, we can only hope that at least somewhere in your mind is the expectation that we will look after your kids. Not only do we have a responsibility to ensure their health and happiness, we also have a responsibility to go that one step further towards building well-adjusted, functioning adults. If there’s ever a way to throw your child into an environment that gently nudges them toward responsibility, ownership and shivyon erech haadam, camp is it.