It sounds like a dream summer for 26 Israeli youths: spending 10 days swimming, playing sports, and meeting U.S. teens at a Jewish camp in Franklin County and visiting Hersheypark. Wednesday evening, they capped their time in Pennsylvania with a ceremonial bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah party in Bala Cynwyd.
That night, the children gushed in Hebrew about their time in America. Tehila Shiloni, 12, of Modiin, said the best part was Hersheypark. Shaked Shuker, 13, of Ra’anana, agreed.
Ilay Keinan, 13, of Gedera, said his favorite part of the trip was the camp lake; Roee Hadad, 13, of Be’er Sheva, said being with Americans was “an unforgettable experience.” And Shir Elmakias, 12, from Netanya, allowed how “it was a little strange to meet American campers. … But it was very fun to speak with them.”
What made the Israeli children different from the American campers? Each of the visitors had lost a sibling or a parent serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Shiloni’s brother, Almog, was killed at age 20 in a stabbing attack in November 2014; Hadad’s brother, Shachar, died in a car accident at age 19; Keinan’s sister, Koral, was killed while serving at age 22; and Shuker’s brother, Ofir-David, died in an accident at age 21 in 2016. Elmakais’ brother, Shlomo, died on an IDF mission.