In Israel, every tour bus has a Shomer, an armed guard.  While this is a reality of the current situation in Israel, on the many trips I have been on (including last summer during Operation Protective Edge) I have never, never, seen a Shomer use their weapon.  The Shomer is traditionally at the end of the group, keeping the group us compact and physically cohesive as possible.

This poses a problem for many of the campers I work with.  Because of their disabilities, they are often at the end of the group.  I am fully aware that this makes the Shomer’s job much more difficult.  As one or two campers lag behind, the gap grows larger.  This diminishes the ability of the Shomer to keep the whole group safe.    Typically I hang back with the campers who need more assistance, allowing the group to move at their pace.  Our guide will make stops along the path to talk about the area, history, etc, enabling us to “catch up.”

On one such hike, Alexa was lagging behind, eventually creating considerable distance between herself and the last camper in our group.  I was walking between Alexa and the rest of the group, keeping an eye on both.  However the Shomer was very annoyed at this situation.  Eventually she walked up next to me and said “Can you push her?” to which I answered “no.”  She responded “I don’t mean push her physically, I mean make her to go faster.”  I looked at her and said “no.”

On our hike up Masada, Arielle started the hike the middle of the pack of campers.  Determined not only to hike up but to hike up WITH the group, to arrive in time to see the sunrise at the top, Arielle pushed herself.  About half way up, the miscalculated the uneven stair and missed a step, almost falling.  I stopped her, handed her a water bottle and encouraged her to slow down.  “The sun will still be there in a few minutes, just a little higher in the sky.”  While unhappy with my statement, she agreed to continue more cautiously.  Taking her steps purposefully and using the railing occasionally, this eventually meant she fell behind the group.  However, she arrived at the top of the Roman Path just as the sun was coming up over the Dead Sea.  She hiked up Masada in time for sunrise.

Balancing the needs of the group and of the individual is a huge challenge.  I understand the need to keep the group together, for safety and inclusive purposes.  However, our days are long and exhausting.  The campers I work with are completing trails many would not think are possible given their cognitive and physical disabilities.  And yet, we are still left with the question: can we find a better balance?

Sunrise from Masada.  Taken at 6:03am

Sunrise from Masada.  Taken at 6:03am