For most children, summer means fun, friends, and freedom. But for children coping with the death of a close family member, fun is often the last thing on their minds. And carefree living is a distant memory.
OneFamily’s summer camp is crucial for them. For six days, 300 bereaved children ages 8-24 feel like children again. They get to experience summer like anyone else – swimming, playing sports, and bonding with friends.
All of the children at camp struggle with feeling of loss and longing. But at camp, they give themselves permission to have fun without guilt about enjoying themselves when their loved ones are gone.
Noga, whose brother Naftali was one of three teens kidnapped and killed in 2014, said it was a relief not to feel different from everyone else for a change.
“Here, no one needs to feel sorry for me because we are all like this and I’m not different or strange,” she said. “Here, we are all special, so no one is special. Here I am like everyone else.”
Naama, whose brother Neria was murdered at the Mercaz Harav shooting 10 years ago, said the young people connected to one another deeply because “they all have a hole in their hearts.”
“At OneFamily, I have a bond with people like nowhere else. What is special here is that people always understand me because everyone has lost someone and they understand what loss is,” she said.
Learning to Carry On
One of the highlights of camp is the evening when campers share their stories to the entire camp. Members from each division, from the oldest to the youngest, step up on stage and speak about their experiences. This year, the theme was “journeys” and how the campers got to where they are today.
Lihi, whose father Ido killed a year ago at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, spoke about struggling to understanding how people live on after a loss of such magnitude.
“I understood what had happened but I did not want to believe it. Everyone began to cry and I realized that my dad would not come back,” she said. “I did not believe it was happening. I felt like I was in a film that I did not belong in, like it was a bad dream.
“In the first weeks after the attack, I would call him, then remember he was no longer there and hang up.”
She said her father was the first person she would talk to when she had something to share. She tried talking to her friends it but was not the same. “Today, I can share things within OneFamily more than anywhere else,” she added.
After her mourning period ended, her friends tried to cheer her up with a trip to Eilat. “On the way I was able to let go a little and I started to feel like myself again,” she said. “At first I felt bad that I was a bit happy, smiling. Still … I did not understand how people continue their lives as usual.”
A short time later, she came to OneFamily camp for the first time. “Suddenly I met people who had experienced similar things, and I saw how they continued to laugh and be happy. I looked at how other people around me were struggling and realized that there was a whole life ahead of me. I have two options – to live or to die.
“I decided I preferred to live.”
OneFamily is Part of the Journey
Danielle, 24, has been part of OneFamily for 14 years, since her brother Ofir was killed in his army base when she was 10-years-old. This year, Danielle reached the age of “graduation” from the Senior Youth Division to the Young Adult Division and attended her last summer camp with OneFamily.
“So what is OneFamily for me? The truth is, it is a vital part of my journey,” she said.
“OneFamily for me is the experience of getting excited every time a counselor calls me.
“One family for me is not going to Bnei Akiva camp and instead coming OneFamily’s camp.
OneFamily for me means that even if I am not in touch with the girls in my division for months, when we meet at camp we share a deep bond together.
“One family for me means when I am in on the street and see someone wearing a OneFamily t-shirt, I feel an immediate connection, a part of my identity.
Even though she is leaving the Youth Division, she said, “I will always know that this is my home, and this will be the place where I will spend Yom Hazikaron. And this is the end that is not really an end because at OneFamily – the moment you enter – you are deeply connected for life.
Yitzhak lost his brother Benaya in Operation Protective Shield in 2014. He said he was reluctant to join OneFamily in the beginning because he wasn’t sure it was right for him. “But I decided to join anyway because I already met a few friends. When they came home from the camp they told me how much fun they had being part of OneFamily.
“After I joined, I realized it was a lot more fun here than I expected.”
A Rousing Performance from Hadag Nahash
Near the end, OneFamily CEO Chantal Belzberg noted the family atmosphere at camp that gives everyone such a strong sense of belonging.
“Without the family member we no longer have with us, life will never be the same, but we all unite into a big, strong family that says to itself and to the world that despite everything we will continue to live and rejoice.”
The presentations were followed by a powerful performance by the popular Israeli musical group, Hadag Nahash, which had the whole group dancing to their classic songs, including the Sticker Song – with its lyrics taken from bumper stickers on Israeli cars.
The energy of the evening was punctuated with the unity that lasts long after the last campers have gone home. As Noam, whose brother Avraham David was murdered at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, said, everyone present had a powerful connection.
“It is bereavement that connects us,” he said. “Everyone is in the same painful situation, and this breaks down all the barriers and enables us to feels each other’s pain … So even though everyone came from all over the country, and each has a different story and a different way of being, we are all OneFamily.”
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