From The Blog

Welcoming the Stranger

Welcoming the Stranger

Posted on July 3rd, 2016

Assistant Director Alex Null talks about her planning of the S’ganim trip, and her experience traveling with a bright cohort of campers this session. 

In 2014, Greene Family Camp became a shelter for refugee children from Central America who arrived to Texas without their family or a place to call home. Fast forward to this past winter, Greene welcomed even more immigrant children who needed a safe place to stay. To Loui Dobin, Executive Director, there was no question whether we would host the huge number of immigrant kids at GFC – “No sweat. We have room for them.”

I recently had the privilege of planning and leading our S’ganim (9th grade) trip to San Antonio. This trip was my capstone project for the Hebrew Union College (HUC) Certificate in Jewish Education for Adolescents & Emerging Adults. The S’ganim trip is meant to be a way for the unit to learn together- with each other and from each other, about ourselves, others, and our responsibility as Jews. The overnight trip is an accumulation of the topics they have learned throughout the summer education curriculum.

This summer, the theme of the trip revolves around Jewish views and values on immigration, tikkun olam and advocacy once they return home after camp. In Exodus, we learn, “You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  On the trip, we heard from three different non-profit organizations including: BCFS, a global system of health and human services based in San Antonio, Interfaith Women’s Coalition and Catholic Charities. Each of the organizations provided a unique perspective on current issues and concerns, as well as heart-breaking stories of people not so different from us who are living in fear for a variety of issues. The S’ganim campers came into the trip extremely open minded, asked tough questions and listened intently to our guests.

The S’ganim campers were very curious about the process of immigrant children crossing the Texas border, as well as the reasons for why they were fleeing the country. To say that I was blown away by the S’ganim teens on this trip is an understatement. This particular group of campers are extremely bright, and asked thoughtful questions to our speakers. The guest speakers even came up to me afterwards saying how impressed they were by the questions being asked, and the attention being given to the subject. Although our campers come from very different backgrounds and Jewish education levels, the main goal of the trip is that they all walk away with some level of understanding of advocacy and service learning tools to create a successful community once they return home.

As Jews, we are instructed in the Holiness Code (Lev. 19:33) to take to heart the lessons of our own history by treating aliens in our midst with justice and compassion, and our S’ganim campers are learning just that. “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

It is our obligation and duty as the Jewish people to welcome the stranger – whether that is in our home for Passover, welcoming a new camper at GFC, or saying hello to the new student in our class. We may not be able to change the world, but if we teach our campers/children to ask tough questions, seek answers and learn others’ stories, we might just be able to do our part in helping change the world, one person at a time.

To learn more about GFC’s high school year-round social justice programs, visit our website for more information.

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