April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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Counterpoint Israel Celebrates 10 Years of Success

One month, 300 campers and 27 Yeshiva University students. This seemingly mismatched group is the perfect formula for Counterpoint Israel, a camp for at-risk teenagers. Run by Yeshiva University, this is the camp’s 10th year running and the momentum is only growing.

The program was run in two different sessions, the first from June 29–July 9 in Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi and then a second session from July 12–July 22 in Dimona and Arad. The counselors themselves spend two weeks in one city and then switch off.

“Making a difference in the world and trying to make it a better place is what Counterpoint stands for,” said Yoni Mintz, a YU participant from Fair Lawn, NJ.

Kiva Rabinsky, Director of Counterpoint Israel, explained how they choose the specific communities where there isn’t enough programming for 8th to 10th graders. “It’s really about providing a service where they need a structured program for this age bracket. The majority of the participants would [otherwise] be causing trouble and mischief,” Rabinsky explained to the Jewish Link.

Many of the campers are either from low socio-economic backgrounds or have behavioral issues, criteria that label them as “at-risk youth” by the Ministry of Education, with whom Counterpoint works closely.

Rabinsky described how Counterpoint’s mission is threefold. First off, the YU students are provided with an opportunity to become agents of change and learn how much of an impact they can make. The second beneficiaries are the Israeli teenagers who are learning skills in order to gain self-confidence and worth. Thirdly, in a broader perspective, it is also about developing a relationship with the cities with whom Counterpoint has built strong partnerships. “It’s an all-encompassing experience,” says Rabinsky.

From archaeological digs to talent shows, the day is packed with an ever-changing variety of activities. “It makes a more lasting imprint in the children’s minds if every day is different. There is so much packed into [each day]. I really feel like I’ve been here for months even though I’ve only been in Dimona for a week,” Mintz told the Jewish Link.

True to the principles of the program, each day stands out from the next. The children start off with an activity, called a “chug,” and then they have an interactive English lesson. Mintz explained that they try their best to make English fun because “if it’s not a positive enough experience, it won’t be seen as something that they’ll want to do in the future.”

Yosefa Sebrow, an NJ participant who is training to be a teacher, said she joined Counterpoint to hone her teaching skills. “I didn’t realize how much more there was to the program than teaching English,” said Sebrow. “I had the opportunity to relate to and inspire the teens.”

The English curriculum is made up of different words attached to a topic of the day—such as Israeli pride or health—and the counselors teach them the lesson or idea with different games using the English words. Afterwards, there is another chug where the campers can play the drums, dance, play sports, cook or experiment with art. And the day isn’t over yet! The third chug of the day includes activities such as apache relay races, talent shows and sports games.

The campers also have an opportunity to visit Jerusalem, a city many students have never been to or seen through a proper lens. One camper, who had never been to Jerusalem before, had the tremendous experience of putting tefillin on at the Kotel for the first time.

While the language barrier may have been a struggle, the participants quickly learned to break it down. Mintz, who only had a rudimentary grasp Hebrew, said he found it difficult to make small talk and get to know the campers. “Knowing only a few words isn’t really going to cut it. But then I’ve been able to work on it and I feel like I’ve gotten better at it. It’s second nature for me now. I don’t even realize that there is a language barrier.”

Other counselors learned to use other methods of communication. “I used body language, eye contact and similar interests to relate to the campers,” said Sebrow. “There were times where I felt stuck because I couldn’t speak Hebrew or understand the slang terms they were using, but by using other forms of communication, I overcame the obstacle and made meaningful connections and friendships with the campers.”

The counselors all mentioned how the talent show is the highlight of the camp. “Some of these campers don’t get positive attention from their parents, and may not have the confidence to showcase their talent,” said Sebrow. “The talent show provides an encouraging environment for the campers. When they see how excited their counselors (who only just met them six days earlier) are to see the talents, the campers get a rush of confidence.”

By the final event, with both parents and campers participating, student’s artwork is showcased to display their talents. “I got to tell the parents how amazing their children are,” said Sebrow. “The campers, who may lack positive attention from their parents, are excited to hear compliments that they may not hear on a regular basis. The parents are often wonderfully surprised to hear how great their children are.”

Another NJ participant, Atara Saibel, discussed how Counterpoint turned into so much more than she expected. “We don’t simply teach them English and run activities—we empower them to recognize that they are unbelievable people with so much potential and so much to offer. Kids that are too shy to say hi to us on the first day end up singing on stage in the talent show just a week later, tangible growth for such a short period. After Counterpoint, we as counselors and they as kids both feel that we can accomplish anything, and if we just put our minds to it, we know that we can.”

By Bracha Leah Palatnik

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