There are numerous “firsts” in our lifetimes. A baby’s first step. A toddler’s first word. A teen’s first day of high school. A couple’s first child.

There are firsts, milestones of growth and development, built in to almost every aspect of our lives. We look forward to them, later cherishing memories of each occurrence.

But there is also another kind of first. One that we could not possibly anticipate and that may send us into a tailspin.

This summer, I experienced two firsts. I was privileged to serve as a staff member on Yeshiva University’s Counterpoint Israel program for the first time, running educational summer camps for underprivileged children in Israeli development towns. I also stood strong during my first wartime experience.

When I prepared myself for an exciting and meaningful summer, I had no idea as to the degree it would be fulfilled.

Counterpoint Israel kicked off as planned in mid-June. Orientation went smoothly, followed by a great first week in Kiryat Gat. It wasn’t until the second Monday night down south that I encountered my first siren.

Although I go running every day as part of my training for the Stern College Cross Country team, and am rather used to racing against a clock, this was a different kind of run entirely.

First Time Running to a Bomb Shelter

It was my first time running to a bomb shelter. My first time listening for the ‘boom’ that indicated an Iron Dome interception. And my first time creeping out of hiding, only to carry on with regular life.

The first time was scary. I was paranoid for days afterwards, thinking that every noise was a siren. But, for better or worse, I got used to it. My first became my second, and then my fourth, and, finally, my seventh. This is not such a high number relative to other areas in the South, but it was enough to keep me on my toes at all times.

After the first siren in Kiryat Malachi, our group was told to pack up and move to Jerusalem. I did not realize how much I truly loved the campers until I was forced to leave them without notice. We have not seen them again since, and I have had a very difficult time coping. These young children were living in shelters in a war zone, rather than having fun at summer camp. It is just too painful to digest.

We relocated to YU Israel in Bayit Vegan and had to adapt to a new, very Israeli scheduling tactic – we were asked to “Lizrom,” simply go with the flow. Counterpoint Israel’s head counselors showed tremendous strength throughout the week, planning and re-planning our schedule on the fly. They remained calm, cool, and collected, and skillfully kept us informed and entertained. It was the first time I witnessed such an incredible effort in such a challenging situation.

Upon reflection, my Counterpoint experience afforded me several other “firsts” as well, occurrences that will have a lasting impact on my life. It was my first time teaching. It was my first time living in the South of Israel, if only for a short time. And it was my first time seeing the awesome power of Jewish unity forged under extreme pressure, watching a divided nation unite, standing together as one in the face of adversity.

First Real Connection with Land of Israel

It was also my first time really connecting with the Land of Israel. The relevance of the constant news updates, and my physical proximity to the actual struggles being reported, forced me to develop a stronger connection with my homeland. I wanted to know everything that was going on, not just for my own safety, but to make sure that everyone in our land was safe and secure.

The situation helped all of the Counterpoint counselors gain a deeper understanding of our mission in southern Israel. We spent our summers in Dimona, Arad, Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi because want to help our country flourish – all of it. We wanted to give the kids we encountered the kinds of opportunities that would prepare them for a bright future. We were lending a hand to make the desert bloom, one child at a time.

It is for this reason that Counterpoint Israel continued operating even as the rockets continued to fall. After careful deliberation and intense safety planning, we were told that we had no choice but to soldier on. We had a very important mission that could not be ignored: to ensure that Israeli children had numerous happy memories and exciting firsts to reflect on in their golden years.





Article by Stephanie Greenberg

Stephanie Greenberg is a resident of Cedarhurst, NY and a student at Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women. This summer, Stephanie and 32 other exceptional undergraduate students from YU ran the ninth annual “Counterpoint Israel Program,” specially-designed educational camps for 300 Israeli campers from varied socio-economic backgrounds in Arad, Dimona, Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi.