One of the many summer trips that Yeshiva University has to offer is Counterpoint Israel, a stimulating program that has educated hundreds of students since its conception.
Counterpoint, an initiative of the Center for Jewish Future, seeks to teach underprivileged Israeli children English. Counselors organize activities and trips that utilize English vocabulary in order to help make lessons more accessible to their preteen students. Each day starts early in the morning, in order to allow counselors time to prepare classrooms for their students, and proceeds with a filling breakfast and quick game like a push-up contest to excite the kids. An hour-long English lesson follows, after which activities such as dancing, cooking, drumming or sports are open to all the campers. That evening, after the children have gone home, counselors have time to bond by going on trips, playing games and preparing for the next day’s lessons.
“The mission of Counterpoint Israel is to provide role models for the kids of the south,” said Shlomo Anapolle, a head counselor in Dimona this past summer. “Learning English is obviously a major goal, but being a role model for them really changes their trajectory in life and I speak from personal experience when I say that. When these kids see religious American teenagers volunteering to come and help them, it elevates them and gives them the self confidence they need to succeed in life, and they really do look at us as role models, as their older brothers and sisters, all part of Am Yisrael.”
The experience can be life-changing for both counselors and campers. Anapolle continued, “[Counterpoint] empowers the counselors in a similar vein. Confidence in one’s judgment is key and Counterpoint has really given me that, in addition to the countless other tools and techniques I have picked up over the four times I have done it.”
“In my English class, there was a boy who had ADHD; he would usually come late and disrupt the class. Even though we were warned about this type of behavior during orientation, I was taken aback the first time he got up from his seat to bother the boy next to him,” said Yael Jacobov. “One day, he came to the art activity and was particularly rowdy, and after multiple warnings, the art teacher asked that he leave the class. I joined him outside and we spoke about his behavior. Later, the art teacher told me that he had come over to her and apologized for his behavior. That was one moment that truly impacted me.”
Rachel Hershkowitz’s experience with the campers of Counterpoint was also very touching. “One day after camp, the counselors asked some boys to stay in camp to help make a minyan for mincha. During davening, our staff saw one of the campers shift uncomfortably as he did not know how to daven mincha. One of the religious campers immediately went over and encouraged the boy in his tefillah. These children viewed every Jew as a Jew and any other differences as insignificant. The campers came from a vast array of backgrounds, some Orthodox, some non-observant, some with American parents, some who did not know a word of English. This very diversity made my summer on Counterpoint so meaningful. The campers were not blinded by externals and had the ability to view all people in a positive light, knowing every person has something to offer.”
The Israeli campers and their achievements are not the only feature of Counterpoint that YU students enjoyed. The opportunity to explore and become familiar with Israeli towns and their inhabitants proved moving and inspiring for many students. Explained Kayla Safren, “One of my favorite aspects was getting the real Israeli experience. For close to three weeks, my team lived in the south of Israel, in a warm and friendly town called Dimona. We quickly became comfortable with our neighbors. Everyone knew us as the Americans that came to teach the neighborhood children English—and that instantly garnered us respect and admiration in their eyes. We were quickly absorbed by the people of Dimona as their family. They treated all of us like their own.”
Hershkowitz added, “My colleagues that journeyed with me on this challenging but beautiful mission all came from the States and are part of the same university system; we belonged to different social circles and didn’t cross paths until Counterpoint. It is here that we became a family. We shared in the laughs, the tears and the inspiring moments that changed our lives.”
“You will receive tenfold what you put in,” said Anapolle. As Counterpoint counselors can attest, this includes camaraderie, inspiration and an incredible summer in the Holy Land.