Coronavirus in the Midst of Life
by Avishay Nachon
In case you don’t know me, nice to meet you, my name is Avishay Nachon. Seventeen years ago, I joined Deddy Paz and Ronen Hoffman, along with other talented individuals, to establish our life’s work – Kimama. And I’ve been here ever since. When I think about it today, I realize we did it out of a combination of naivete and youthful trust. Seventeen years later, we’ve managed to create a formula for a summer camp program for kids and teens that has become increasingly relevant over the years, and we’ve been blessed with a team of counselors and coordinators that we could only dream of for our own children.
For the last two years, I’ve lived in New York, where I’ve worked on setting up and developing Kimama’s activities in North America. Over a relatively short period, I’ve learned to love Manhattan and everything this city has to offer. I’ve met with lots of organizations and leaders of the Israeli and Jewish community in the U.S. and see the community’s need for an informal program to strengthen the connection to Israel and our children’s affinity for Jewish culture.
Kimama’s head office continues to be run from Israel and as part of my move to New York two years ago, we started conducting most of our meetings by video conferencing. Over time, I’ve started enjoying the advantages: meetings are focused, there’s no time wasted before and after meetings, and everything is a lot more efficient. But as someone who grew up with Kimama and is connected to everything happening within the organization, I make sure I visit Israel every two months, mainly to meet with the wonderful team working with me there and to see up close that what I see through the screen corresponds is actually happening on the ground.
My most recent visit to Israel was in February, and I was happy to get to the office and see how hard everyone was working to get ready for the coming summer. The phone was ringing off the hook, there were lots of new campers signing up from all over the world, and in every work-related conversation it was clear that we were riding the wave. Just a moment before I returned to New York, there was talk about some kind of a flu spreading through Europe and we decided it was better to cancel Camp Skimama in Italy over Pesach, just to be on the safe side. There were already 50 campers signed up and we assumed there would be more. Everything had been ordered ahead of time, but we didn’t think it was right to take the chance that Europe might be closed off. Relatively speaking, the decision to cancel Camp Skimama was easy to make. And then I flew back to New York. Even there, there was plenty of work to do getting ready for the summer.
Within a very short time, we discovered that this coronavirus wasn’t just a little thing we could ignore, and before we knew what was happening, we were forced to close the office and go on unpaid leave. In the 17 years that I’ve been with Kimama, this was the first time I needed to stop. It’s just not something I’m used to. I’m used to stepping on the gas and going. No stopping along the way. What’s the point of taking a vacation now? But planning is one thing, reality very much another.
In every crisis, there is also an opportunity
So everyone was at home, glued to the news, we held a few meetings to prepare for the situation, and very quickly discovered that unpaid leave is a nice way of putting it, but it had nothing to do with us. Between March 15 and May 15, we were at home, but we were all working from morning until night on all kinds of things. Among others, the question came up for managers: how can we hold Kimama camps during the coronavirus period? Hint: anyone who suggests that we do it online is out of the game. That’s not what we’re about. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s simply not what we love to do, and we also couldn’t find a single manager within Kimama who thought that was the right way to do it.
Within 24 hours, we came up with 6 great ideas. We voted and chose the idea that we loved most. And it seems like we hit the bullseye. It came up that we’d need isolation, that if we were going to have activities, it would be best in a “bubble,” and also, during those challenging days, there could be up to 10 participants. I’ll remind you that this was during the period of not going more than 100 meters from home, no more than 10 people, soon all the restrictions will be eased…
So how do we do Kimama in a bubble? Here’s the secret: 7 campers ,5 days, 2 staff members, 1 van, and a program right out of Hollywood: Kimama Van! Imagine all the best parts of Kimama… then make it even better, and then kick it up one more notch, and here’s what you’ll get: https://www.kimamavan.org/
Our team’s mission was – within 2 weeks – to get the site up and running with registration forms, recruit staff members, build a program and tracks, finalize deals with the van suppliers, sleeping arrangements, activities, etc. And thus was born the program for Kimama Van. Registration is open, and very soon all the spaces will be gone…
But that’s just one example of something “Kimami” that we evolved during the coronavirus period.
Our second idea arose from our need, as Israelis living abroad, to come to Israel during this challenging period. New York is closed, there are no schools or kindergartens, most summer camps aren’t opening, and a return to normalcy doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. From getting to know Kimama families abroad, we’ve seen that lots and lots of Israelis come to Israel every summer with their kids. And then they need a structured framework for their children – but there are no schools or kindergartens, and it’s not always easy, or possible, to find a structure like this for just one week. With this idea, we decided to put together our new summer day camp.
In cooperation with Bereisheet in New Jersey (partners for our day camp in New Jersey), we created a day camp at Beit Yannai which will run throughout the summer. This camp is specifically adapted to and aimed at Israelis coming from abroad for the summer who will be delighted to join Israelis from Israel.
Come get to know our new camp: https://kimamabereisheet.org/israel/
So what now?
Summer 2020 is going to be different, but no less “Kimami” than previous summers.
We’ve delayed the start of our overnight camps by two weeks to start on July 21st and run until the end of August. Our day camp is opening very soon now.
We understand that lots of campers from abroad won’t be coming to Israel this summer, but we are already saving their spot for next summer. Our management team is currently busy obtaining all the required authorizations from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education, and we’re creating entire protocols detailing our operational preparedness to deal with COVID-19 conditions. All so we can create a safe summer. It’s challenging, but definitely possible, and we’re doing everything we have to according to all relevant guidelines.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you and show my appreciation for all the families who have shared their concerns, and to our wonderful Kimama team who are working day and night to create an unforgettable summer.
We recognize and appreciate the friendship we’ve created over the years and invite you to join us.
Avishay and the entire Kimama Team