Turning Strangers Into Family Year Course 20-21

Written by Yael Berezdivin for the Year Course 20-21 Graduation Ceremony

I grew up watching all my cousins go on Year Course. One by one they left for the land of milk and honey, and one by one they returned, speaking of “the best year of their lives,” and how they had learned so much about themselves, about their Jewish identity, and created their own special relationship with Israel. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I anxiously awaited my turn, although it seemed like a lifetime away. Well, one uncle, an aunt, a father, seven cousins, and a sister later, my time finally came: it was time for Young Judaea Year Course 2020-2021 and I was signed up. That thing that seemed like a lifetime away, wasn’t so far anymore… one year, one month, a week, a day, and then BOOM I was put in an eight by ten room with three of my best friends for fourteen days straight, but it didn’t matter, I was in Israel, I was on Year Course. Mission Accomplished.

And what a mission it has been. Nine months packed with crazy adventures, friends, and non-stop laughter. I have been stuck in a sand storm (all because I wanted to pet a kangaroo), touched a sea cucumber (it was gross), had an incredible, seven-hour Passover seder, learned the entire super trouper dance from Mamma Mia, and even found out the Hila is my fourth cousin, crazy right? And that doesn’t even begin to cover it. All of those moments, as incredible and unforgettable as they were, are not what have made this year magical. A jar is not filled only by big rocks. To fill it, and I mean really fill it, you also have to pour in the pebbles, and then the sand, and then even a bit of water. It’s the little things, the inside jokes here and there, the tea times and the sunsets, the cooking and the having nothing to cook with, the late-night dance parties and the neighbors calling the cops on us within five seconds that give Year Course its magic. The little things help fill up the jar all the way to the top so that we can seal it up and take it home. A capsule full of the memories from the best year of our lives.

To feel a sense of belonging is also not this one moment where it all clicks into place, it’s all the moments. However, for me, there are four moments that stick out the most…

There was one time in Jerusalem when I decided to go on a walk before class. At the time I was reading a book set in Israel that followed two families through the creation of the state. They spoke about all the landmarks: the golden dome, the old city, the Jaffa port, kibbutzim, and Tel Aviv. And as I walked, I looked out onto the promenade, and as I breathed in that amazing view, full of all the places they mentioned in the book, only one thought crossed my mind, “Wow, I really live here.”

Months later, while walking the streets of Tel Aviv one night I ran into a man at the bus stop. I heard him speaking Spanish and he looked terribly confused so I approached him and asked if he needed any help. It turns out he had just made Aliyah from Argentina, it was his first day out of quarantine, and he was incredibly lost. So, I told him to download Moovit, explained how to use it, and gave him directions to where he wanted to go. Again, all I could think was, “Wow, I really live here!

Now, a couple of days ago everyone at Beit Hillel had to run down to the bomb shelter as sirens went off all over Tel Aviv. We huddled together, most of us experiencing this for the first time, anxious and scared. One after another the sirens kept coming on as we heard the loud boom of the iron dome fighting to protect us. While sitting in that shelter, texting my friends to make sure they were ok, sharing my experience to educate others, and watching videos of rockets flying overhead one thought crossed my mind, “Wow, I really live here.” But it wasn’t a sad or resigned remark, it was one full of pride and passion. This year has embedded in me a paramount responsibility to advocate for Israel, and these past few days have only made that fire burn brighter.

And lastly, on Sunday night, I walked with stars beneath my feet and above my head. In the middle of the desert, on the Milky Way path, I let all my time here wash over me and I felt a sense of calm in knowing it is ok to be sad that Year Course is ending, but having a deep knowledge that it would never be over. Our friends are just like the stars: we cannot always see them, but they are always there.

Now think back to your capsule of memory. I’m sure they all look different, each individual experience adding its own personal flair, but before you seal the lid, I want to give you some more things to remember…

Remember that we are a family. Year Course ends, but our friendship never does. Wherever life may take us, through the ups and downs we are sure to encounter, we will always have each other. We have been through quarantines, lockdowns, corona scares, an open country, rockets flying overhead, and an impromptu trip to the desert, and we have done it together, as a family. In your jar, there are a million memories attached to 200 names that make up this amazing program.

About a year ago, each of us sat in front of a computer waiting for our Year Course interview. They asked us what we hoped to gain from the program, and most of us said we wanted to find ourselves, not really knowing what that meant. Well, I found myself in the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv and the spiritual energy of Jerusalem. I found little pieces of me in every hike, every Siyur. On lazy days and crazy days, hidden behind intense laughter and eye-opening conversations, through new friendships and old ones. Every time I ate way too much Anitas or missed the bus, slept through my alarm, or ran into my friends on the street I learned even more about myself.

I may still not know exactly who I am or what my purpose is in life but I can guarantee that this year has definitely led me closer to finding out.  Plus, some things it has taught me for certain are that wherever I go in the world, I have a friend to call. I know that I am capable of living independently (kind of), of finding my way in a foreign country, that I can throw an amazing party, organize a Maccabiah, and that I love Israel.

But the greatest thing I learned on Year Course is how to turn strangers into family.

Meet the 2021-2022 National Mazkirut!


We are proud to announce the 2021-2022 National Mazkirut (National Teen Leadership Board)!

These teens were elected at this year’s Virtual National Convention April 22nd-25th, 2021. The National Mazkirut is the principal leadership body of Yehudah Hatzair. They will plan and implement exciting programs throughout the year to engage existing Judaean’s and recruit new ones! We can’t wait to see what this group has in store for Year-Round Programming 21-22!

Hi! I’m Nadav Gilboa, and I’m from Pittsburgh, PA. I spent 7 years at CYJ Midwest and one at Camp Tel Yehudah (thanks, pandemic). This summer I’ll be a CIT at Camp Sprout Lake. Last year I was AVP Logistics Midwest YJ and have been involved in year-round YJ for 10 years! I like pretty much any game I can play with my friends, from Ultimate to soccer to basketball, as well as board games, and just chilling out with some Netflix. I ran for National Mazkirut with the goal of reinvigorating our movement after a hard pandemic, as well as redefining the roles of our most senior teen leadership in year-round planning of our events, and I am really looking forward to seeing many of my fellow young Judeans at upcoming conventions. I am excited to help Young Judaea make this next year the absolute best it can be, and I can’t wait to get started!

Shalom YJ! My name is Natalie Sabrsula and I’m from LaGrangeville, NY. I love playing tennis, making friendship bracelets, and traveling. I’ve been a part of Young Judaea for about 8 years now, attending Camp Sprout Lake, Camp Tel Yehudah, and participating in Year-Round YJ. I was on the Empire Mazkirut for the last 2 years, first as the Ofarim-Tsofim Programmer, and then as the Administrative Vice President (AVP). Now I’m super excited to be the National AVP this coming year where I am hoping to implement a new outreach program to get new teens involved in YJ! I look forward to working with my fellow National Mazkirut members and the regional Mazkiruyot to continue to connect with other Judaeans through our zoom events, and hopefully in-person events soon too! 


Hi! I’m Melanie Rutherford, the 2021-2022 National Bogrim Programmer! I’ve been going to Young Judaea camps since the summer of 2015 and this summer I’ll be going on the Gesher Complete trip. I have met some of my absolute best friends through Young Judaea, and it’s what got me involved in Mazkirut. I’ve been on maz for the last 2 years, first as Empire’s Social Action Programmer and again as Empire’s Bogrim Programmer. In my spare time I love to dance, listen to music, and do art projects. I’m so excited to bring my past experiences to the national stage and continue planning and running YJ events for everyone to enjoy. I hope to see you all back in person!

Hello! I’m Sara Tilem and I am a junior from Brooklyn, New York. I have been involved with Young Judaea since I was 11 years old at my first summer at Sprout Lake. I never knew going to a summer camp would change my life the way it has. In my free time, you can find me shopping, babysitting, hanging out with friends, or going to a concert. I am so excited to be the National Ofarim-Tsofim Programmer and inspire kids to be the future leaders of Young Judaea! 


Howdy y’all I’m Reeve Dolan, I’m from Cleburne, Texas and I’m currently a Senior at The Oakridge school in Arlington Texas. YJ has always been an outlet for me to express myself in the Jewish world. Whether it’s discussing pressing issues in today’s world that has to do with my religion, or just being able to meet other Jewish teens who are just like me from around the world. This movement has transformed me into a more confident and proud Jew and it’s equipped me with the knowledge to better my understanding of the Jewish religion and Israel. This is my first time sitting on a National or regional board within Young Judaea, but that does not make me any less eager to be an outstanding Social action program for the National Mazkirut of 2021-2022. Besides being active within YJ I also like to wrestle and watch football, always rooting on the Packers. I can’t wait for YJ to be back in session and hopefully we can all return in person to attend every and all events this upcoming year!

Shalom! I’m Rayna Schlossberg and I am this coming year’s National Pirsum and I am from Rockland County New York. I have spent eight summers with Young Judaea and couldn’t imagine being a part of a closer and more welcoming community. I love drawing flowers and taking hikes in the woods as well as hanging out with my friends. I am thrilled to aid in the transition from zoom to in-person events this coming year!

10 Reasons Why Kids Should Go To YJ Summer Camps

Written by Fanny Korman, Tel Yehudah Board Chair

Combined, my husband Roger, our three kids and I have spent at least 44 years at Young Judaea camps, specifically Sprout Lake, CJ and Tel Yehudah. When I was asked to summarize why it is a good idea to send kids and teens to Jewish camp, in particular a Young Judaea camp, I took the instinctive approach – no scientific data, only my emotional and experiential impression. This has been the beacon lighting the way throughout my life and guiding me as I work to make sure that Camp Tel Yehudah remains strong and magical for generations to come! 

Mind you, I consider myself an expert on this subject having been a camper and staff member at Tel Yehudah. It only takes one summer at TY to understand at a very deep level why going to a Young Judaea camp is so crucial to a Jewish child’s life and our combined 44 years YJ camping experience might just make me an expert. To me, the simple answer to the question of why to send your kids to Young Judaea camps would be, “send a kid to Tel Yehudah  camp for a summer and you have a committed member of the Jewish community for life!”. 

That being said, I didn’t want to go on and on about one of my favorite topics without talking to some of my “resident maivens”. After consulting my husband Roger, I went to my personal source of all important information – our children. 

So, with the help of my mavens, here are the Top 10 reasons to send your children, grandchildren and any Jewish child and teen to a Young Judaea camp (in no particular order):

There are, of course, many more reasons why one should send kids and teens to Young Judaea camps, so consider this a starting point for the top 100 reasons! What’s on your list?

Young Judaea summer programs are worth our support. Think of the impact they will have on our children’s lives and the future of Israel and the Jewish community. Forward Together!

2021 Winners: Leaders of Tomorrow for Young Women

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA), recently announced the 2021 winners of their Leaders of Tomorrow Award for Young Women – Liberty Lebos of Savannah, Ga. and Sabrina Skolnick of Atlanta, Ga.! Each will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel to participate in Young Judaea’s summer Israel program Gesher!

The Leaders of Tomorrow scholarships are awarded following a merit-based competition. They are given to young women who, because of the leadership roles they have taken on as students, have demonstrated their potential to assume even greater leadership roles as adults.

Get to know the 2021 winners:

Liberty Lebos, 17, is finishing her junior year at Savannah Arts Academy in Georgia. She attended Camp Judaea in Hendersonville, N.C., for seven years. An experience as a navigation leader in an Outward Bound program at camp gave Liberty her first true test as a leader as she safely led her group down the mountain to safety after an incident on the trail. Liberty is the Fundraiser Ambassador for the Rape Crisis Center in Savannah and has volunteered with the local special-needs organization “UTime.” In her free time, she locates clothing at thrift stores to combine with her grandmother’s hand-me-downs to create new designs.

“I am so honored to receive the Leaders of Tomorrow award, and that I am able to share my Jewish experience with my peers and other women my age. Especially during such hostile times, I am proud to represent my identity to people who may not know while educating myself on this incredibly complex conflict.” -Liberty Lebos

Sabrina Skolnick, 16, is completing her junior year at Midtown International School in Atlanta and, like Liberty, attended Camp Judaea. Sabrina’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and she grew up knowing that her life and the life of her family are miracles. Sabrina competed in the National History Day (NHD) international competition for three years and volunteered with the “Friendship Circle,” an Atlanta organization providing Jewish programming for children with special needs, and the Atlanta chapter of “Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution,” a national outreach program with a mission to end human trafficking. She plans to major in Biomedical Engineering.

“I humbly thank Hadassah for this heartfelt honor. With this incredible experience and with all that I have written, I so look forward to making the most out of my Gesher experience and continuing to be actively involved in Young Judea. I want to be an exemplary model of a young adult woman and continue to feel proud of as a young jewess, to carry the torch “midor l’dor,” and make my parents and the jewish identify proud.” – Sabrina Skolnick

Gesher is an exciting, three and a half week summer Israel trip for rising 11th and 12th graders. The winners will learn about the rich culture and history of Israel, have the opportunity to hone their leadership skills, and give back to local communities.

“We look forward to seeing Liberty Lebos and Sabrina Skolnick continue to grow as young leaders and ultimately become leaders of the next generation of Hadassah members.” – Lynn Davidson, Hadassah National Chair, Young Judaea

Mazel Tov Liberty and Sabrina!

From CYJ to CEO

Humans of Young Judaea Spotlight: Dan Elbaum

“Your name is Jacob Kotsis and you are a Greek Jew. You lost your entire family in the Holocaust. Tonight, you are going to sneak into Palestine.”

I was actually a fairly pampered 11-year-old and from a northern suburb of Chicago, but I nodded solemnly and took my little cardboard identity card.

I was at Camp Young Judaea-Midwest. My fellow campers and I were participating in an activity that would make Jewish history come alive. We hid in the mud from our “British” counselors’ patrol, we joined the Haganah, and we ended the day singing Hatikvah and dancing. As we returned to our cabins, we were a lot dirtier, a little smarter, but most importantly, we had had an amazing time.

Today, as the CEO of The Jewish Agency for Israel in North America, I am sometimes asked what inspired me to dedicate my professional life to the cause of building connections between Jews and Israel. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is more than one factor. Yet I do know that it was at Camp Young Judaea where Judaism and Zionism came alive for me for the first time in a way they had not before. Israel was no longer just a country that my parents talked about every night; it was exciting and fun, and I had a personal connection to it.

I often think about my time at CYJ as I work with my colleagues at The Jewish Agency to deepen the bonds that Jews feel to the state of Israel and each other. Through our many programs, including providing Shlichim (Israeli emissaries) who serve as counselors at CYJ and other camps, and immersive experiences, we touch over 1.2 million Jews a year.

The Jewish Agency is on the ground in over 60 countries finding innovative new ways to strengthen the relationships between Israelis and world Jewry, ensuring our shared heritage unites us and that the Jewish story continues. We also facilitate Aliyah, helping any Jew who wishes to move to Israel to do so while simultaneously working to ensure that Jews around the world are safe and secure in their home countries. We make sure there is no need for other Jacob Kotsises to try to sneak into Israel.

The work The Jewish Agency does is meaningful and makes a difference. But CYJ taught me that it must also be fun. I am incredibly grateful to CYJ for teaching me that lesson. And this summer my daughter will go to CYJ for the first time. I can’t wait to hear about her experiences and the lessons she learns there. I know they’ll have a huge impact on her too.

Dan Elbaum is a former CYJ Midwest camper (1986-89). He is currently the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Head of North America and President and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development (JAID).

Ask the Camp Directors!

With camp around the corner, Young Judaea teens took the opportunity to get to know the Camp Directors a little better!

Frank Silberlicht, CYJ Texas

How did you get involved in Young Judaea?  I was living in St. Thomas and helping with youth programs at the synagogue and I decided on a career change into Camping. I wanted to live in Texas and Camp Young Judaea was where I got a start.

What is the best part about being a camp director?  The job is always changing.  Nothing about my job is redundant.  We are always innovating and trying new things.  I love the ability to run the Camp like a business with a heart!

Who is your hero?   I will go with Sandy Koufax.  He was pitching in the World Series in 1965 and Game 1 was on Yom Kippur.  He was not religious but he put his faith before his career.  I admire that!

What is your favorite camp tradition?   Coffee Cake at CYJ on Shabbat.  Those that have had it, understand.

What are your goals for camp this year?  Open and have a safe summer.  Show the first bit of normalcy to our campers and staff in 16 months!

Are there any surprises for camp this year?  Yes, but if I share it here it will not be much of a surprise.  Let me just say that we have a few new programs up our sleeves.

What kitchen utensil best relates to your job being a director? Why?  My job as Camp Director is to have vision and support our staff in doing their jobs. That means I am oven gloves to support what’s being done and to make sure nothing gets burnt.

What’s your favorite camp meal?  Every Sunday for lunch, we have hamburgers and fries.  That is my favorite meal!


Walter Synalovski, Camp Judaea

How did you get involved in Young Judaea? I grew up in Puerto Rico where YJ was the youth group for the kids in my synagogue. My brother, Manny, got me involved in Young Judaea while he was the madrich of our club and was the Mazkir of the Florida/PR region (Or Hadarom).

What is the best part about being a camp director? The best part of my job is to see our kids/staff participate in our camps and Israel programs, and develop a connection to Israel as they become the future leaders of the Jewish Communities.

Who is your hero? Pedro Martinez. He was a major league pitcher and was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. He was a great baseball player and is a genuine and awesome person.

What is your favorite camp tradition? Misdar Boker. It is great to see the whole camp start the day together.

What are your goals for camp this year? My goal is for the chanichim and tzevet to have a great time and for us to have a healthy community.

Are there any surprises for camp this year? Yes, we have many new special programs planned for the chanichim. The kids will have a blast.

What kitchen utensil best relates to your job being a director? Why? I don’t have a kitchen utensil that comes to mind. However, I am a fan of the large mixers in the bakery. (I know that the mixer is an appliance and not a utensil). When I hear the mixers churning, I know that we will have fresh brownies and cookies later that day!

What’s your favorite camp meal? Shabbat Dinner is the greatest meal at camp. No doubt! Its the meal that I look forward to all week!

Helene Drobenare, CYJ Sprout Lake

How did you get involved in Young Judaea?  I did not grow up in YJ, I grew up in BBYO. I started as the director of CYJ Sprout Lake in 1999.

What is the best part about being a camp director?  The best part of my job is being part of change. Every day is different and the Sprout team gets to be part of empowering the next generation of Jews.

Who is your hero?  It’s a mix of Golda Meir and RBG

What is your favorite camp tradition?  Siyum- without a doubt. It is the one moment where the whole world stops for us to just say thank you.

What are your goals for camp this year? To open! We are so excited to get back to camp after 2020.

Are there any surprises for camp this year?  Yes there are- but I can’t tell you because it’s a surprise!

What kitchen utensil best relates to your job being a director? Why? The Fire Extinguisher- the big red one that hangs in the Sprout kitchen. As a camp director we are always putting out fires on some level.

What’s your favorite camp meal? BBQ

David Weinstein, Camp Tel Yehudah


How did you get involved in Young Judaea? I was 11 years old and I was flipping through my mom’s Hadassah magazine and saw an ad for a brand new camp opening – Sprout Lake.  I was tired of my old camp and I said to my mom, that I wanted to go to Sprout Lake.  That was 1976.  The rest is history.

What is the best part about being a camp director? Watching campers grow into amazing staff members.  It reminds me that we truly are developing future Jewish leaders every summer at TY.

Who is your hero?  Nelson Mandela.

What is your favorite camp tradition?  Hadracha kids leading of gazal on the last Shabbat.

What are your goals for camp this year? This summer is all about re-opening safely and being incredibly creative in how we go beyond expectations of how great camp can be even with some restrictions.

Are there any surprises for camp this year?  Ummm..yeah!

What kitchen utensil best relates to your job being a director? Why? The huge Hobart mixing machine in the back of the kitchen.  It’s been there since I worked in the kitchen and is still doing the job of mixing it all together to make an incredible summer.

What’s your favorite camp meal? Oh Bagels doo doo doo! Every summer I get to say a few words to the chanichim about the history and importance of bagels to our people.  And, they are so so yummy!

Robin Anderson, CYJ Midwest

How did you get involved in Young Judaea?  I participated in a Young Judaea program called Sharsheret when I was a junior in college (my sister was on Year Course at the same time). After that semester, I worked at Kibbutz Ketura for the summer. When I graduated from college, I accepted a position as the assistant regional director for Midwest Young Judaea (and besides a few years), I have been here since 2000.

What is the best part about being a camp director? I love seeing when a group of campers start the session as individuals and end the session as a family. Also getting the entire camp to see Pizza Man at Shabbat lunch shira.

Who is your hero? Golda Meir

What is your favorite camp tradition? When the entire camp sings Shalom Alecheim together on Friday night/Midwest’s special ice cream truck on the last day of camp

What are your goals for camp this year? For campers and staff to have fun and not worry about all of the stress and anxiety of the past year

Are there any surprises for camp this year? Can’t share – they wouldn’t be a surprise! 🙂

What kitchen utensil best relates to your job being a director? Why? a rubber spatula because it is literally the most versatile utensil

What’s your favorite camp meal? Oven Fried Chicken & Challah on Friday Night