I’m spending this week with 11 students who will work this summer as members of the staff at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. They’ve all just completed their first year of college at a range of public and private universities. They spent much of our first day together sharing impressions of how Israel is perceived at their respective schools.
Their stories ranged from a sense of wonder at the positive impressions many students have of Israel (or the lack of negative impressions) to frustration at what some perceive to be the link that has developed between “liberal” and anti-Israel. All of them had stories of encounters with students who either knew little about the country or depicted Israel in ways that its supporters would never recognize. One sounded proud as she announced that she had corrected a professor in class when he wrongly stated that Israel gained independence in 1947. Another was disappointed that his dialogue with a Saudi exchange student led only to frustration.
All of these students could have been spending their summer — or at least the days before they leave for camp — sleeping late, hanging out, and disengaging from everything that occupied them all year long. And who could blame them? After a year devoted to studying, researching, writing, speaking, organizing, responding, refuting, experimenting and doing everything else that 21st-century students do, they could surely be excused for thinking they deserve a break.
These 11 students, and many others, understand things differently—that summer break is more about shifting gears, and less about shutting down for the season. If all you do all summer is unwind, you’ll miss some of the opportunities presented by three months outside the classroom and away from your campus. Summer is the ideal time to recharge your batteries, to earn some money and tally new adventures, but it also presents a chance to deepen your understanding of things that matter to you and causes that occupy your attention when you’re at school.
If campus Israel activists spend much of the school year planning activities, building coalitions and spreading information, summer offers the chance to step back from the tactical realities of daily activism and take a longer, more strategic view of the situation. Reflect on what you did in the past year: What might you have done differently? What can you plan for next year? How can you ensure that you return to campus better informed and better prepared for greater success? And what can you do to ensure that new leaders are prepared to take over for the old-timers? (After all, nobody will be around forever, especially not on campus!)
Whether you’re spending the summer at camp, in Israel, backpacking, at the beach, working or doing anything else, make the effort to challenge yourself, to learn something new, to read a book or to learn from someone whose opinions and experiences you respect. Set a goal of returning to campus better prepared to impact the campus Israel environment, even if it means rethinking every detail of what you’ve done in the past.
Summer break is a great privilege — one that gets shortened dramatically after you enter the working world — and great privileges should not be squandered. Find the balance between leisure and focus, and cherish every experience.
One more note: After closing our recruitment season, ICB is screening an excellent set of applications for our 2012-2013 reporting internships. Soon we hope to introduce our newest reporter interns to you, our readers. Through the summer, please continue to send us comments, suggestions and story ideas! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.