The summer camps for Messianic teenagers in Israel are back!

As Israel comes out of the COVID-19 crisis, Netivah youth ministry hosted several summer camps during the spring and summer as the government eased the COVID restrictions. They hosted a large summer camp with 280 teenagers, a camp for younger teens in 7th to 8th grade, and a camp for soldiers – after not having had them for two years.

“As soon as some restrictions were lifted, we started to evaluate our options,” Joel Goldberg told KNI. “They were lifted slowly, and initially there were still restrictions on the number of people that could gather. We thought of ideas on how to arrange the camps in separate smaller groups. We did a few activities like that at first. Then we realized that most of the soldiers who came to the activities were already vaccinated. That gave us a sense of security and peace over the risk factor,” he said, referring to the fact that most people above the age 16 were vaccinated before summer.

The restrictions originally allowed gatherings outdoors with larger numbers than indoors. The Netivah staff took notice of this issue and took steps to move a lot of their camp activity to be outdoors. They conduct their activity at the Baptist Village next to Petach Tikvah, and as there were already several bleachers lying around, they built an outdoor amphitheater for Netivah.

“They were amazing,” Goldberg said. “On their own time, they gathered the bleachers, and arranged for lights and electricity and everything for us, so that really gave us the means we needed to have the conference outdoors. We also had the meals outside. Thank God for pleasant weather.”

The first youth conference took place on the weekend of April 30 – May 1 and had 280 attendees from all over the country 9th to 12th grade (ages 15 to 18). As the restrictions still applied to indoor spaces, the dorms could only be used up to half capacity, so they accommodated the other half of the attendees in tents.

The theme of the conference was “A New Day.” Goldberg explained: “We felt we had a new beginning here, and a new excitement of being together. So the subjects we taught on were joy, hope, and freedom, and how these biblical themes connect to this period we’ve been through.”

What did you miss most during the pandemic?

“Worshiping together. A few weeks ago we had a conference for soldiers and others who have finished high school, with 180 attendees. The topic was ‘A New Heart.’ People were so excited to meet face to face. It was amazing to hear these soldiers singing together at the top of their voice. As the worship leader, I had to fight the urge to stop playing, because I just wanted to hear them. It was so encouraging to hear their hearts crying to God.”

Besides the youth conference and the soldier conference, they also had a young teenager’s conference for 7th – 8th grades (ages 13 to 14). It was planned for the weekend of 14-15 of May, but then the war with Gaza happened. “We were thinking if we should cancel or postpone it, but we eventually realized that we can’t give up on the kids of this age group. So we postponed it for one week. We relied on the news reports that the ceasefire would come into effect, and it did, praise God. We haven’t had a conference like this for two years, so almost all of these young teens were new to Netivah. They were thrilled to come together and meet other believers from the entire country. We took the same subjects we taught the older youth, and adapted it to them. It was a great blessing.”

What is up next?

“In August we will arrange the yearly 5-day hike for high school teens when we go from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. It’s a lot of work to plan each day and station. We also have the camps where we prepare Messianic high school graduates for the army.”

And after that? What’s the vision for Netivah’s future?

“Provided that we don’t have additional pandemics or wars, we are now looking at restoring all of our regular activity. But we also want to look at what the pandemic taught us. Our online presence and media took a great leap in 2020, so we are really praying for wisdom to decide what we want to keep from that, and what we say that ‘this was important during the pandemic, but is no longer needed.’ The mamash po initiative is one such example.”

According to their website, Netivah is a ministry with the expressed goal to guide the youth of Israel to a saving knowledge of Yeshua the Messiah, teaching them to be rooted in the Word, challenging them to serve the Lord, and encouraging them to connect with their congregational community. May they keep up and expand their activity for the coming generations. They are a great blessing for many Messianic teenagers, including my own kids.