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JNF on Camp – Funnovation abounds!




With the JNF’s more than 110 years of Zionist activity from tree-planting to solar power, it was decided that this year’s educational activity would focus on the theme of “Israeli Innovation”.  To do this the JNF brought games and resources to camp that highlighted Israeli innovation in the fields of health, environmental issues, design and culture. 

Oscars - Ida - HOMEAlltogether the camps attracted around 1 400 kids this year – exploding the myth that today’s youth are lazy or unmotivated. The vast majority of the organising is carried out by young people between the ages of 18 and 22.

For those who haven’t been to camp before, or haven’t been for a while, here is a slice of the 2014 vibe.


One of the smaller camps, Netzer caters to children from the Progressive community and includes a focus on Israel, Tikkun Olam and Netzer ideology among its educational programme. 

Oscars - Ida - HOMENetzer also has a strong move toward including vegetarian options which makes meal times especially interesting. The campsite is located in the Muizenberg area and has dorm- type accommodation with wonderful sloping lawns and a highly frequented swimming pool.

Netzer  – beach hike

The JNF arrived just in time for Tiyul (outing) day. Instead of opting for the usual mountain hike or river ramble Netzer decided that a beach walk would be a more fun option.  A stunning piece of beach was chosen for the occasion which was almost entirely devoid of people. Along the way kids enjoyed collecting shells, taking pictures, sliding down sand dunes and even examining a small dead seal (eeewwhh).

At a mid-point through the walk the hikers came across an old tanker ship wreck. This signalled a stop for chocolate, song and prayer and an exercise in appreciating nature. It was then time to get back on the trail with the group ending up at a local swimming beach.  The frigid waters were a welcome relief and the hikers enjoyed a pleasant splash in the southern Atlantic.

In the evening the oldest and youngest shichavot (age groups) got together in a big brother/sister programme where participants made friendship bracelets and joined in for a karaoke competition.

Bnei Akiva

This is one of two larger youth movements and is mostly associated with the Mizrahi or religious Zionist movement. Bnei Akiva focuses on Israel, Torah study and life skills as part of their curriculum. The campsite is based in the Mossel Bay area and has grown from what used to be basically a field with a kitchen and toilets to include a number of wooden huts, ship container offices, a range of playground equipment, two swimming pools and a tuck shop with its own observation deck.

Sherman Bertha - HOME

Bnei Akiva – “Hanging green wall” at the tuck shop, chanichim making crafts for Chanukah

From a JNF perspective it was also great to see some recycled Coke bottles acting as a “hanging garden” on one of the walls. The tuck shop has been creative this year and has hot chips, smoothies, pancakes and toasted sandwiches added to its normal menu.
When the JNF arrived on camp, the fun was in full swing with a number of soccer and volleyball games being played and music was being pumped from loudspeakers. A number of pue’lot (educational sessions) were also on the centring on topics such as unity, team work and using time in a meaningful manner. 

After the minchah prayers a group of kids gathered in the Beit Midrash for a learning session. Around the Beit Midrash pamphlets were available explaining everything from culture and science to angels and reincarnation. Despite all activities the beach retained popularity with the clear warm weather bringing out the towels and costumes en masse.

Habonim Dror

Habonim Dror – or “Habo” as it is commonly known – is the other large camp and was originally founded as a socialist Zionist movement. Although socialism is no longer part of its ideology, “Habo” maintains its leftwing spirit. Its educational programme includes a strong emphasis on activism, social justice and Israel. On this camp chanichim also help out in the general duties and admin. Anytime of the day one can find various groups assisting with the food preparation and the delivery of it to their peers.  

The campsite has tremendous natural beauty and is situated near Hermanus area inside a Yellowwood forest that flows onto the beach. Chanichim sleep in tents in different glades of the forest creating a magical atmosphere and an awesome space in which to chill out in one the hammocks occasionally slung between the trees.

Sherman Bertha

Habonim – playing “Israeli Innovation UNO”

Plenty of opportunities for fun abound on the camp with regular games of rugby and ultimate Frisbee. There is also a newly-installed astroturf for soccer.  Habo has some great educational traditions such as “illegal immigration”. 

This activity teaches about the attempts to smuggle Jews into pre-state Israel. To convey the sense of drama the madrichim (counsellors) wake unsuspecting chanichim up in the middle of the night. It is certainly an eagerly/apprehensively awaited peu’lah.

The JNF stayed over Shabbat at Habo with one of the highlights being the traditional tunes sung at kabbalat Shabbat by an ad hoc camp choir. Also on Shabbat Habo have their own mini “Limmud” where speakers are invited to come and talk to the kids about various topics. Included on this year’s line-up was UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price on university admissions policies as well as former Habonik Kevin Sack on what Albert Einstein thought about religion.

Members of Habo have clearly also been keeping a keen eye on fashion trends in Israel with a number of campers sporting “man buns” and “Blundstone” shoes. If you are a little behind the times on what these terms mean, Google search for more details. 


Betar makes a welcome return to the youth movement scene this year after a brief absence. Betar is a traditional rightwing Zionist youth movement that is inspired by the works of its original founder Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Betar started its life originally as a paramilitary youth movement and this is continued in its modern-day incarnation with a daily flag-raising ceremony. Betar also stresses the need for Jewish pride, self-reliance and the importance of setting a good personal example. 


 Oscars - Ida - HOME

Betar – Flag-raising ceremony on the beach for Chanukah 

The camp this year is in KZN and boasts cabin-based accommodation and an amazing view of the ocean from the dining room, there is direct access from the campsite. During the camp a number of educational activities were undertake, exploring such issues as Israel, the Betar movement ideology and of course lots of trips to the beach.

One such visit fell on the beginning of Chanukah and campers gathered for a picture which included the South African, Israeli and Betar flags and Chanukia. The photo is being featured in the Israeli newspaper “Israel Hayom”.

The JNF was enthusiastically received at all camps and it seems that the youth movements are once again living up to their reputation for imaginative education and fun activities. The kids are also clearly having a whale of a time.

A special thank you also needs to go to all those people who never get recognition for the roles in making camp special. Well done to all CSOs,  cooking staff, transporters, admin staff, parents, doctors, councillors, life guards, rabbis, site staff, alumni, guest speakers and Israeli schilchim who have all played an enormous role in camp 2014. Well done to all, here is to 2015!

  • Author Benji Shulman is the deputy director of the Jewish National Fund of South Africa

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