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The Jewish Report Editorial

Machaneh – so much a part of who we are

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A close friend of mine believes that once December starts, it is time to take the pressure off and not take anything too seriously. I love the sentiment, and see it as an effort not to get stressed in the last couple of weeks before the holidays begin. It’s about not letting issues – no matter how big – make you feel negative, stressed, or upset.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Dec 05, 2019

Easier said than done because, for most of us, there is a great deal to do during this last stretch and we are all tired and a little tetchy because we need time out.

However, exams are over and school is finished for the year, so that takes a certain stress off us. Whatever you have decided to do for the holiday is planned and organised, whether it’s chilling out at home, heading overseas, or to the beach. Suffice to say, if it isn’t organised, it’s unlikely to happen. So, that stress is eliminated too.

Then, there is the anticipation of most of us of taking a break and just resting and relaxing so that we can take on 2020 with vigour. We all need to take time out from our crazy lives to spend time with family, friends, and ourselves.

This week, many of us are sending our children off to Habonim, Bnei Akiva, and Netzer camps. It’s never easy, as the overprotective generation of parents we are, to let our children go away without us. But for those of us who know what awaits them – having grown up going to machaneh – it’s a little easier.

Who hasn’t spent this week recalling camp experiences, be they blush-worthy, exciting, or just downright memorable? I have. In fact, I got out the photo albums…

Having been to both Bnei Akiva and Habonim, I have a sense of what I believe to be a real rite of passage for our Jewish youth.

I remember the first time I went to camp. I wasn’t yet 10, and my mom and dad came to Park Station in Johannesburg to see me and my older sister off. They believed I was safe going as such a littlie because my big sister was there to watch over me.

I recall being quite scared … until the train left. I looked around, and realised I was surrounded by children my own age, and was being looked after by teenagers. I actually remember feeling a sense of freedom. It wasn’t long before I made lots of friends in my shichvah (age group), and the fun really began.

Machaneh was far more rudimentary then than it is now, but boy, those were fantastic holidays! I still have connections to people I met back then. I still have clear memories of those holidays. I remember sitting in a corrugated iron-roofed hadar ochel (dining area) with the entire Bnei Akiva camp, singing birkat hamazon (grace after meals) with gusto.

I remember showering in open-air, cold-water showers with makeshift walls around us at Habonim machaneh. I remember the walk to the beach on both campsites. So many happy memories.

Camp showed me I was capable of taking care of myself. It taught me independence. It made me realise the importance of democracy, and working with others for the greater good. I learnt to find my own opinions, and voice them. I learnt to debate and challenge where I believed it necessary. Habonim and Bnei Akiva helped me develop into the person I am today, and I’m grateful.

Having said that, I do worry about my own children going off to camp without me. I know we are way more protective of our offspring than our parents seemed to be of us. But the good machaneh does our children – who are so often mollycoddled and do very little for themselves – is exceptional.

When my colleague, Jordan Moshe, was relaying some of what he gleaned while interviewing for the story about Machaneh then and now (page 14), he loved the idea that just like King David Schools and shuls are an integral part of what our community is about, so is machaneh. I agree.

There are some of us – or our parents – who chose not to go to camp. It’s not for everyone. However, those of us who did spend a number of those three-week stints sleeping in tents, going to tochniot (activities), learning about South Africa and Israel, singing, shouting war cries, laughing, perhaps sometimes shedding a tear, but living life to the full, have a special bond. We have a grounding in what it means to be Jewish in South Africa that nobody else can give us.

It wasn’t about the food, the beach, or particular maddies (youth leaders). It was about the relationships we developed, the conversations, the learning, and interaction between us that made machaneh special.

I know I would get a fright if I walked onto the Habonim site in Onrus or the Bnei Akiva site in Mossel Bay because it probably looks totally different to what I remember. And, I can go on to criticise what youngsters pack in their trommels, or how there is a barista at camp, which seems all wrong. I can tell you that perhaps “roughing it” isn’t what it was in my day. I can probably wax lyrical about how machaneh should be, because that was my experience, but it is today as it is meant to be. The point is that those who go to camp now will get as much out of machaneh as I did.

So to all those youngsters who have embarked on the machaneh journey this week, behatzlacha (good luck) and enjoy! And to their parents, your children will only gain from being at machaneh. Also, expect them to need a few consecutive baths on their return to get the layers of dirt off them.

Shabbat Shalom!

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