This June, Robin and Jason Katcoff jet to Israel with daughters Wriley, 12, and Ariella, 9, for Wriley’s Bat Mitzvah. They’re so excited, not only because Wriley will have her Bat Mitzvah in Israel as part of a tour with Beth Am Synagogue, but for four days beforehand, the family will embark on a great “Shlichim tour,” visiting several of the shlichim they have hosted for J Camps and Noah’s Ark Camp and the Macks Center for Jewish Education, here in their Owings Mills home over the last five years.
Shlichim is the plural form of the Hebrew word “shaliach,” which means “emissary” or “messenger.” Each summer, J Camps plays host to several shlichim, to increase Jewish awareness and knowledge and to promote an understanding of Israeli ideals among J Camp campers and the camp community.
The Katcoff’s have hosted shlichim for three weeks of every summer since 2013.
we wanted to be good hosts and provide our ‘girls’ with a valuable experience
Emily Stern, now Sr. Director of J Camps, then Director of Noah’s Ark preschool camp and in charge of the J’s shlichim program, introduced the concept of hosting to the Katcoff’s when Ariella, the Katcoff’s youngest daughter, was a student in the JCC’s Early Childhood Education Center.
Robin recalls, “We dragged our feet a bit and were nervous about having an older girl living in our house. We recognized that hosting a shaliach was a commitment and we wanted to be good hosts and provide our ‘girls’ with a valuable experience here.”
In their first summer as participants in J Camps’ shlichim program, the Katcoff’s hosted a young Israeli woman by the name of Nirit Dahan.
During the day, shlichim such as Nirit immerse themselves in work as J Camp counselors and activity leaders. Then, in the evening, they play an active role in their host families, participating in kitchen and household activities and then hanging out with their adopted summer “siblings.”
A summer with the Katcoff’s is super fun, filled with daytrips to Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Hershey Park, Orioles Games, camping, the beach. “We want our girls to have all the great experiences families have together,” says Robin. “They give us Israel and Israeli culture, so we owe them a good time!”
This past year, in the Summer of 2017, the Katcoff’s hosted Adi Benyaminov.
“Adi was J Camps’ nature specialist so we went camping,” Robin explains. “Jason had to work but we went tent camping in Antietam for two nights and I knew because Adi had gone camping and hiking in Israel so she knew what she was doing. And we had our tent and we made fires. And then we went whitewater rafting in the Shenandoah, right past Harper’s Ferry. We had never done that, and I had never have gone camping myself without Jason or the Girl Scouts.”
The Katcoffs and their shlichim share a loyal bond and keep in touch via Skype, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
The roster of Katcoff shlichim includes Nirit (2013); Dor Ben Hamo (2014); Gil Mizrahi (2015); Neta Novik (2016); Adi (2017); and Hadas Dekel, who spent three months with the Katcoff’s in the fall of 2014 as part of a shlichim program with the Center for Jewish Education.
All of their shlichim have met the Katcoff’s extended families. Robin’s parents even went to Israel the December after they hosted Nirit and had an opportunity to visit with Nirit for a day and a half, “which was fabulous,” says Robin.
The Katcoff family with Neta Novik (Summer 2016).
Still, caring for a shlichim is a commitment, and as Jason and Robin tell it, life happens.
About a week before Nirit had planned to go to Hershey Park for her birthday, she went roller-skating with the Katcoff girls. Nirit broke her wrist while skating, which was extremely painful.
The Katcoffs, along with Emily Stern, moved quickly into action and made sure Nirit received the care she needed.
Jason points to the irony of the situation, “Nirit was able to survive all of her army service without getting injured but she spends a few weeks in the Katcoff household and she breaks her wrist?”
Robin explains, “I had to really take care of her, so we bonded over that because I had to do a lot of things for her…. having these girls has really prepared me more for when our children get to be closer to those ages.”
Apparently, the Katcoff shlichim in Israel – have all started fighting over when they can host the Katcoffs in return for their hospitality, during their June 2018 Israel trip.
“They’re all like, ‘No, no, no, you have to stay with me!” says Robin.
“It’s truly been so fabulous having them. It’s given my family an excuse to have fun and live life to its fullest.”
“I get to expand my family without actually having more children. I get more people to love, and I love them all.”
Thanks to generous support from the Associated, J Camps is bringing in 5 shlichim for Summer 2018 and is currently looking for host families. If you’d like to open your home, or are interested in learning more, please contact Stacy Deems at 410.559.3513.