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Aussie Madrichim in the Arava

Against all odds in this unpredictable year, the Arava Summer camp in Israel not only went ahead in July 2020 but the Arava Australia Partnership (AAP), in collaboration with the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA), were able to recruit four madrichim for the camp.

Since 1995, Australia has partnered with the Central Arava Region through Partnership 2Gether (P2G), a program akin to a sister city relationship. Created by the Jewish Agency for Israel, P2G aims to connect a community in the Diaspora with a region in Israel through unique people-to-people activities.

For the past three years, the AAP has carefully selected and flown madrichim from Australia to Israel for these summer camps. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this option was not possible, and instead, the AAP reached out to find Australians already in Israel via social media and other creative means. The AAP  and the ZFA were successful in recruiting a group in record time after advertising the position to Gap year students already in Israel on various programs, and Australian olim.

AAP Partnership Australia co-ordinator Stacy Hayman said, “We were delighted to bring Australians to the Arava for the first time since the COVID-19 disrupted all of our plans and delegations for 2020. We are particularly proud given our Partnership is the only one who have managed to achieve this”.  

The new cohort of summer camp madrichot and madrichim are Tari Sztokman from Melbourne, Mia Parry from Perth, Sagi Maor from Israel and Noa Mayshar from Brisbane. This is the first time representatives from across Australia have been included in the group.

Both Mia and Tari were on a break from their gap year program at Midrasha Lindenbaum in Jerusalem and jumped at the opportunity to give back to the Arava community and explore a part of Israel that they were not familiar with.

During the first week of camp the Aussie madrichim actively engaged with over 100 Arava campers in a safe setting whilst at the same time teaching them about Australia and bringing the Aussie spirit to camp.  The Aussie madrichim quickly settled into the Arava despite daily temperatures of over 40 degrees, meeting their fellow Israeli madrichim and attending camp planning sessions.
Noa, a recent graduate of a Kibbutz Ulpan program and future Garin Tzabar participant commented “I applied to be a madricha because I wanted to get a more in depth look at the life and communities in the South. It is amazing how quickly we have all become an integral part of the camp’s leadership team and brought a unique perspective to the camp while working alongside a cohort of Israeli madrichim.”
Week 2 of the camp plans were unfortunately disrupted as many older students in the community were forced into isolation due to Covid-19. Fortunately, the Australian madrichim were not considered close contacts and were not in isolation.

With face-to-face contact off the table, Hillie Bloch, Head of the AAP quickly changed track enabling the madrichim to engage with the community through other means.  “We got to work immediately creating Australian themed activity boxes were to send to the students’ homes to entertain and educate them.  We are so happy we can really make a difference.”  said Madrich Sagi.

Face-to-face activities have now resumed at Camp and the Australian madrichim are enjoying being back with their chanichim. The AAP continues to monitor the situation to ensure the health and safety of the madrichim.

AAP Chair Tamara Bruce commented  “Despite the Coronavirus, the annual Summer Camp Madrichim programme has continued to enhance the people to people connection between Australia the Arava, which is the key objective of the partnership.”  P2G is the global living bridge project aimed at connecting Israeli communities with Diaspora communities. The Central Arava region was “adopted” by Australia as our partnership community in 1995.  

The Aussie madrichim use their informal leadership skills to teach English to the campers in an experiential and enjoyable way as well as lead a range of camp activities. More importantly, their presence and the relationships they develop with the children of the Arava will provide a tangible Australian connection to the local youth as well as to the broader Arava community.  
During their free time the Aussies have enjoyed moshav life on Ein Yahav as well as additional activities, such as; tours and workshops with youth from the Arava.

Over the years, the Australia Arava Partnership has facilitated various delegations between the communities – including youth and students, to professional and special interest groups. Each of these visits has strengthened the bonds between people, created personal relationships and enriched the respective communities’ cultures.

Despite adverse world circumstances that prevent the AAP from running its face to face people to people programs this year, the AAP team are working hard to produce virtual programs to keep the Arava and Australian communities connected. They recently launched a new initiative to show their support to Australian Lone Soldiers who had made Aliyah. The first part of this program saw care packages being distributed to Garin Tzabar soldiers for Shavuot who were delighted to receive their gifts.

For more details about how you can become involved in the AAP, please call Stacy Hayman on +61 3 9272 5531