By Sorelle Weinstein

My kids are members of Tzofim. To explain it to someone not in the know, it’s Israel’s version of Scouts. They are in the religious section of Tzofim, the part that barely gets any funding from the municipality because our numbers are low and don’t justify a large allocation of budget.

With barely 150 kids in the whole shevet, from ages 8-18, Tzofim Datiim is a movement for kids run by kids. Bi-weekly groups/activities take place in the grounds of our local elementary school and the movement’s supplies are stored in the school’s miklat (sealed room). Furniture and supplies come largely from donations from parents and community members.

The Rakezet, coordinator, is only in her early twenties but commands the respect of the children, madrichim (leaders), and parents alike.

You see – in Tzofim, you train to be a madrich/leader in ninth grade. From age 14 up, you spend summer camp building an outside structure in the woods where the kids camp for three-four days. At age 15, you become a madrich yourself.

My 15-year-old daughter is a madricha this year, and she takes the role as seriously as many adults do their full-time jobs. Many an evening she will ask us all to be quiet as she sequesters herself in her room making calls to parents about upcoming events and issues related to her chanichim. Her life is dedicated to Tzofim – and that is truly amazing considering teenagers generally tend to think the world revolves around them. Yet here they are giving up their time, physical and emotional energy for the movement.

Tzofim constantly deals with challenges, knocks and setbacks. Just a few weeks ago, Tzofim’s storage room was vandalized for the second time this year. All the hard work and effort invested by the teenage madrichim to paint the room and furnish it with supplies was undone by the foolish and thoughtless behavior of just kids who didn’t think for a second about the consequences of their awful actions.

That weekend, activities were canceled and the horrible act of vandalism cast a shadow on the entire movement. Despondent, sad, violated – how could we prevent this type of thing from recurring? The obvious answer is a lock to the sealed room, a security camera – but on a shoestring budget, it ain’t so easy.

But the movement did what it always does. Carried on. Despite the vandalism, despite the lack of resources, Tzofim threw itself into a month of Pestisaar (Festival of Saar [the name of the Shevet]) where the groups work tirelessly multiple times a week on their performances which includes dancing, acting, singing, and culminates in an evening where the kids perform in front of their leaders, family members, the school principal, and members of the municipality. The different performances by the groups are judged, and the winners – third, second, and first place – are announced at the end of the evening.

Finally after a month of not seeing our children, because they are out multiple times a week for hours rehearsing their routines, we gathered tonight for the Pestisaar in the Teimani museum in Rehovot. The energy and excitement in the room were palpable. My husband remarked that he has never seen such excitement from anyone about anything before. The kids were cheering each other on. It was a competition but ultimately the 150 members of Tzofim Datiim are all part of one big family. Starting the evening was a moving and beautiful performance by the group made up of special needs children. It is a small group but seeing the two boys on the stage perform next to their madrichot – with such obvious love and affection for each other – and the rapturous applause that followed from the audience was one of those moments in time you just want to freeze.

In general, these kind of performances can be tedious. You want to watch your kids perform, snap some pictures, and then leave. But not tonight. Because even in the performances by the other groups, we were still emotional watching the kids of our friends and community members. I felt tremendous nachas watching a daughter of a good friend of mine stand up on stage and confidently and flawlessly speak in Hebrew in front of everyone when just 4.5 years ago, she arrived as a 12-year-old not speaking a full sentence of Hebrew. My other Olim friends’ kids were acting, singing, and talking in Hebrew as if their whole lives were leading up to this moment.

When it came time to hand out flowers to the honored guests, the principal of our kids’ school was nowhere to be found. His VIP seat in the front row was empty. He was finally spotted. He was sitting sandwiched between some third graders, so comfortable with them as if he was one of them rather than an authority figure. You can’t fake such love.

After the winners were announced, we sang Hatikvah. I had my 15-year-old madricha daughter in the room with her fifth-grade kids, my 9-year-old daughter who was hopping with excitement at her group having won second place in the competition, and my 13-year-old daughter standing by my side, with her name “Tzofia” uttered in Hativka. That feeling never ever gets old. The evening ended with “Ani Ma’amin”. We might get the short end of the stick in terms of budget, but Tzofim truly enriches all our lives.

When you look at the courageous beautiful chayalim that make up the IDF, and consider how many of them benefited and blossomed as a result of years in a youth movement, it is no surprise that our 18-year-olds are the ones protecting our precious homeland.