By Rudy Brandt, Bus 8 Staff
Teary-eyed and Teva-tanned I walked away from my kids at the Newark Airport after a 12 hour flight back to the U.S. from Israel and an absolutely amazing summer. Before I let myself walk away, I looked at each one of them hugging each other, tears of their own streaming down their cheeks. I looked at them and wondered how I would ever truly explain to them how they changed my life this summer.
When I applied to work as a staff member for NFTY in Israel and was assigned to the URJ Camp Harlam trip, I had no idea what I was in for. I grew up at a URJ camp of my own back home in California and know well the feeling of love and community that can be fostered at Jewish summer camp. But even still, I remember the nervousness I felt before my kids walked into the arrivals hall at the airport in Prague where we would begin our summer together: Would that magic feeling of camp travel so many miles and take root within a community entirely new to me? My hands trembled as they clutched the welcome sign. Moments later my kids rounded the corner with their huge suitcases and bigger smiles. The rest is history.
Five beautiful weeks later I cannot imagine my summer, let alone my life, without these teens. All fifty-six of them welcomed me into their Harlam family with outstretched arms and open hearts. I had the absolute pleasure of watching as they grew up on this trip designed to teach, challenge, love, and transform them into the inspiring young people who I hugged tightly and waved goodbye to just yesterday.
As I sit down to write this, less than 24 hours since the end of our time together, I am most struck by the silence around me. No quiet whispers under the desert stars, no spontaneous song sessions on the bus, no chorus of insightful questions for speakers, no ruach-filled chants that echo from the tops of mountains, no beautiful swaying closing circles that send shivers down my spine, and certainly no one lovingly calling me ‘mom’ as I turn around to help lift a duffel bag, fill a water bottle, remove a splinter, or give a hug. I am struck by the silence that signals that little pieces of my heart are scattered all around the U.S. and Israel, the silence that signals that because of the summer I got to spend as a staff member to the most incredible Jewish teenagers, I am forever changed.