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Solidarity March for Gilad Shalit

A three-part camp-wide awareness and fundraising campaign for the captured Israeli soldier, consisting of: an intimate preparation program with the CITs, the camp-wide march and a fundraising run-a-thon called “Exercise Your Freedom.”

Community Contact Information:
URJ Camp Coleman
Cleveland, GA
http://coleman.urjcamps.org/

Goals:

  • To generate camp-wide, broad-based awareness about Gilad Shalit and the human rights violations being committed against him
  • To enable the counselors-in-training (CITs) to feel a strong personal connection to Gilad's story and take ownership over a camp-wide program
  • To raise funds for the Karen Maor Foundation, the international organization that advocates for Gilad Shalit


Preparation:
To involve the CITs, camp staff led an intimate hour-long preparation program to introduce the CITs to Gilad Shalit and inspire them to educate the camp and plan the solidarity march. After the program, the CITs created four committees to be responsible for different parts of the march:

  • One committee created 200 blue armbands, one for each camper, with a stamp reading "Free Gilad." The committee members had to cut 200 strips of blue fabric, create a rubber stamp that said "Free Gilad," and stamp every strip of fabric.
  • Another committee made signs that read "Gilad Lives," "Coleman Supports Gilad," and "Free Gilad." They also inflated blue and white helium balloons to be distributed during the march; decorated the dining hall in blue and white streamers; hung Israeli flags; printed photos from a recent art exhibition of Gilad solidarity posters and hung the photos around the dining hall.
  • A third committee drafted on large pieces of poster board a petition demanding Gilad's release. They also made two sets of index cards with introductory information about Gilad -- one set geared toward younger campers and another set for older campers and staff.
  • A fourth committee created pledge cards and running logs to track donations to the fundraising run-a-thon, "Exercise Your Freedom."
  • A fifth committee wrote a letter to Gilad's parents describe the camp's efforts.

Other preparation for the event included:

  • An American staff member wrote an original prayer for Gilad.
  • Israeli staff members wrote about what it feels like to know one of their peers is in captivity.
  • The camp staff and CITs planned what music to play over the PA system during the march.

Project Implementation:
The day of the march, the camp staff put the introductory index cards on every table. At lunch, counselors were given a schedule of the evening's events, with instructions to have their cabin dress in blue bottoms and white tops that night for dinner.

Ten minutes before the march started, the CITs went to their respective cabins and explained to their campers who Gilad Shalit is. Some of them read from the index cards, some explained in their own words. They explained everyone was dressed in blue and white to show solidarity for Gilad, and they distributed the bracelets and armbands.

The march started at one corner of camp and traveled to other corner, picking up the campers at their cabins along the way. Somber Israeli music was played over the PA system. As the march arrived at each cabin, camp staff distributed ballons, banners and Israeli flags. When the march arrived at its final destination (the dining hall), cabins sat down at their tables and a short ceremony commenced.

First, the CITs read the letter they wrote to Gilad's parents. Then, veteran members of the Israeli delegation spoke about how it feels to know that their peer, their fellow soldier, is in captivity. Next, in a display of American-Israeli solidarity, the American drama specialist in camp invited the Israeli delegation to the stage to read with him an original prayer he composed. Finally, camp leaders explained the run-a-thon fundraiser for Gilad, called "Exercise Your Freedom."

To contribute to "Exercise Your Freedom," camp staff pledged money per lap around the lake by other staff members over the rest of the summer. Staff members were able to log their laps on a giant ledger in the dining hall. At the end of the summer, the laps were tallied and pledges were collected. While they were running laps, staff were asked to wear their solidarity armbands, indicating that they were "Exercising Their Freedom" for Gilad. This visual reminder around camp kept Gilad fresh in people's mind, as did the growing number of tally marks on the ledger.

Results:
The camp staff ran a collective 294 laps, raising $44, which was seen as a success considering the diffiiculty of collecting sizable pledges in a camp environment. "Exercise Your Freedom" ended up being less about bringing in funds and more about raising awareness and keeping Gilad in the front of the camp's mind. Camp Coleman created a film documenting the march, and the film got much recognition in Jewish Agency for Israel's shlichim office.