Dozens of children who were rescued from Arab villages just completed summer camps run by Yad L'Achim, as part of its policy of keeping in touch with these children and their mothers even after they've been brought to safety in Israel.
The camps were run in the north and included exciting activities like rafting, nature hikes, challenging quizzes, heart-to-heart discussions that continued long into the night and much more. For obvious reasons, the camps, run in two separate sessions, for boys and girls, required maximum security.
Taking into account the children's difficult backgrounds, Yad L'Achim put a heavy emphasis on activities that were therapeutic and strengthened the youngsters' Jewish identity and value system. After all, these are children who until recently were being raised in Muslim villages.
In addition, the camps lightened the load of the mothers, who didn't have to worry about keeping their children occupied during significant parts of the long summer vacation.
The boys' camp, which came to an end two weeks ago, featured quizzes on Judaism in which the questions appeared on huge screens. One of the highlights of the camp was a moving tefillah held at the tziyun of Rabi Meir Ba'al Haness in Teverya.
The camp was held in the community of Yavniel, whose residents joined them for minyan and were moved to see the fruits of Yad L'Achim's rescue work. They had difficulty comprehending how children who davened with such intense feeling were just a few months earlier being raised and educated in Muslim villages.
When the boys' camp closed, it was the girls turn. One night, as the girls were preparing to go to bed, Mrs. S. Kostlitz, the head counselor, had a startling experience.
"I was reading Kriyas Shema with the girls as they lay down exhausted, but happy," she recalls. "One of the girls said it is forbidden to read the prayers of the Jews, because she is a Muslim.
"For a moment, I couldn't catch my breath. Her bunk mates were shaken by what she said. But she was a survivor who had been rescued with her mother only a few weeks before. Her participation in the camp was a chance to strengthen her Jewish identity, as well as her self-confidence, by showing her that she wasn't alone and that there were other girls like her."
Mrs. Kostlitz adds: "This was a wonderful opportunity to open a discussion with the girls about what it means to belong to the Jewish people. We spoke about the fact that a Jew is a Jew forever, and that Hakadosh Baruch Hu waits for all His children to come home, like a father who waits for his children.
"The next morning, right after she woke up, this girl came to me and asked me to teach her to how to do netillas yadayim and say Modeh Ani. I was so moved, I couldn't hold back my tears.
"During the activities, you could see the huge effect the camp had on these girls, who carry such a burden. The time they spent together in the camp's very special atmosphere helped them develop as Jews and as people. They opened up, little by little, and shared their personal fears, but also their aspirations and goals, with the assistance of Yad L'Achim's professional and therapeutic staff."
Gratitude for the past and a plea for the future.
Yad L'Achim children daven at the tziyun of Rabi Meir Ba'al Haness.
Minchah at the camp site in Yavniel.
A camper and counselor in a heart-to heart talk.