Miriam Shwartz is the co-director of JCC Ranch Camp in Colorado’s Black Forest.
We’ve just passed the 10,000 feet mark on my flight back to Colorado. I’ve spent the last week at camping conferences in New York and New Jersey and although I am exhausted, I am also invigorated and enthused about getting back to the office and planning for this summer’s camp season. My head is full of ideas to share with my camp team, as well as hard questions that we must answer in order to push our camp to the next level.
Over the past few days I attended some 40 hours of seminars on a variety of subjects related to the running of a stellar (Jewish) camp program, but here I want to share with you some of the learning that I took away from the very last presentation that I attended before heading out. It was given by Molly Barker, the founder of “Girls on the Run,” a national program that empowers girls through the act of running and reflection. I hope that you will find meaning in this message and are able to take away something to incorporate into your own work and/or family life, as I intend to do myself.
Here is the message that resonated with me–
At our core, each of us has a divine spark, an energy that is uniquely our own. This might be referred to as our neshama (soul) in Hebrew. All too often along our life journey, our inner spark is diminished by those around us as and by society as a whole, which then can give way to negative self-talk. What we must do and strive for is to find space in our lives where all the “should’s” and “ought to’s” that we are served by others and by ourselves give way to our own inner power. In other words, we must find the strength to not let others define the spirit that is our self.
Here are some principles to live by from Molly and “Girls on the Run:”
- Acknowledge and devote time to your own gifts and talents.
- Surround yourself with others who balance and compliment you.
- Embrace the ebb and flow of life.
- Create intentional space for your work and personal life.
I believe that these principles are really lived out within the camp environment. Often I hear staff and campers say that they love camp because it is a place where they can “just be themselves.” At camp, both campers and staff are able to get in tune with their core essence, their neshama; we are able to provide a place where individuals feel that their inner spark is not only acknowledged, but is nourished to shine. Although there are a lot of great skills and take-homes that camp affords, I believe that this is perhaps the most important skill of all.
Miriam Shwartz, along with her husband, Gilad, is the co-director of JCC Ranch Camp in Colorado’s Black Forest.
My first and perhaps most impactful memory of camp happened on the very first day I set foot there at age 12. I came to Ranch Camp from the distant and sometimes seemingly foreign land of Iowa. My parents were adamant that I attend a Jewish camp to make Jewish friends and strengthen my Jewish identity, as both were hard to come by in Iowa. All I cared about was that at camp I was going to get my own horse that I could ride every day (every little girl’s dream). So, I found myself utterly surprised on my first day of camp to find something that I didn’t know I was looking for – kehillah (community).
As the whole camp gathered at the flagpole that first night of camp, we formed a large circle. I remember looking around the circle and being overwhelmed by the sight of so many kids of all different sizes, shapes, and colors and knowing that they were all Jewish, just like me. It might sound silly but I didn’t know that there were so many Jews and that they could look so different. I think it was this moment that my parents had in mind when they sent me off to Ranch Camp, the moment when I understood that I was a part of a global Jewish community. At age 12, I fell in love with camp; a love affair that has lasted for 16 summers and counting. It’s not just the beautiful setting of sprawling Ponderosa Pines, wide-open pastures, crisp Colorado air, and clear blue skies, it is the intense feeling that when I am at camp, I am at home.
Each year, we choose a summer theme and this year I’m so excited that the theme will be kehillah. What better place to think about, talk about, and experience community than within the confines of camp? We will explore this concept through camper and staff programs on diversity, inclusion, sensitivity, and group dynamics. Both through structured and experiential means, we will strive to strengthen existing connections and build new ones within our small camp community. In this way, I hope to create an atmosphere for others where they can feel a sense of pride and belonging just like I did around the camp circle so many years ago.