More thoughts on giving.
‘Tis the season of thankfulness and giving. Are these words synonymous in meaning when it comes to the holidays? For some the answer is yes and for some no. When I think of the holidays I generally think of family and then quickly think hmmm, what am I going to get everyone this year? Then the thoughts become about me (obviously) and I think, what do I want for the holidays this year? There is so much about this happy exchange, ripping wrapping paper and watching the reaction when exposing the innards of such gifts that make the childish giddiness resurface.
This year when thinking about Hanukkah and gift giving, I am feeling intrigued by the calendar collide. Hanukkah and Thanksgiving join forces forming what is being marketed as Thanksgivukkah. The holiday for which we reflect on what we are thankful for and a holiday that has become a celebration of eight nights of presents. A funny symmetry, receive a gift for one holiday and be thankful for it for another… no, that’s not what this is about? Or is it?
When I was a young girl, part of the requirement towards becoming a Bat Mitzvah was to complete a certain number of hours of community service. I was set up with an organization and once a week after school I went to this office space and stuffed envelopes. I had no idea what I was folding. Not a clue what I was shoving into those white envelopes. And even less of a thought as to whom these envelopes were being sent to. Did I think to ask? Nah. There wasn’t internet at the time and if there was, would I have cared to look up what this organization did? Probably not. I did what was asked of me and earned my necessary community service hours and I am proud to say that I achieved my requirements towards becoming a Bat Mitzvah. Mazel Tov (congrats) to me and anyone else who walked through these motions to meet the requirements of our adolescence.
Flash forward to present day, a time in my life where I use the Hebrew phrases, tikkun olam (heal or repair the world) and tikkun midot (heal from the inside out) almost daily to describe a portion of the Jewish values that we focus on at “my” camp, Passport NYC and at 92Y. Values that help to find meaning in the actions of each day. Meaningful in the way that we reach out to the community within the space we live or the space that surrounds us. Meaningful in the way that helps those around us and the earth beneath our feet. Each and every one of us have the opportunity to find meaningful ways to give, whether it is our time, our money, our leftovers, our unused clothes, our energy, our knowledge, our passion, our friendship, our love – giving lends itself to you, the giver.
Recently I was invited to the 4th birthday party of a close friends son, included in the invite was a link to donate to a charity of the child’s choice in lieu of gifts. I was amazed and impressed. I was thrilled and surprised. I was even more in awe when the child himself told me that he knows there are kids out there that could use the gifts more than him. Yup, 4 years old.
On Tuesday, Dec. 3rd a day has been dedicated to just this, Giving Tuesday (#GivingTuesday). Our modern day has allowed us to turn the days after giving thanks into days in which sales blast stores and the internet, known as ‘Black Friday’ followed by ‘Cyber Monday’ and within these great sales and opportunities for us consumers to consume the day has come where we can give, however you feel empowered to give.
Maybe this holiday season you choose a charity that means something to you and stuff white envelopes or share a link to a charity you connect with for holiday gift donations or indulge in the wrapping paper ripping, but whatever route you take- giving doesn’t only have to take place when we’re saying thanks. There are so many ways we can give and be thankful that don’t need to come wrapped with bows and dreidel printed paper. We can come together with family and friends this holiday season and give with meaning. I hope you can take your Thanksgivukkah moment to be thankful, to give gifts and to give back and feel thankful for the ability to do just that.
A camp professional in my adult life, I have always been a camper at heart. I have the deepest, most meaningful relationship with my camp experiences, memories and friends. So much so that five of my friends from my summers away at sleepaway camp and I took a weekend away from our lives—leaving behind significant others and children to escape to the place where time has no meaning. A place where six, 30-something year old women can play, dance, relax and, most of all, laugh like not a moment of time or space has kept us apart. It was a camp weekend away together in the traditional camp setting of sports, arts, waterfront activities, buffet meals and awkward encounters with perfect strangers that rejuvenated my love for why I do what I do.
Much of this year I have spent questioning myself as to why do I do what I do? If I told you this past summer was sunshine, rainbows and easy breeziness I wouldn’t just be lying to you but I’d be lying to myself. This past summer, like the previous in my camp professional career, was hard work. It wasn’t fun. I didn’t laugh uncontrollably or appreciate moments like I did in the days when I was a camper I pushed through, sometimes counting down portions of the day or week just to have time goals to achieve. Was it harder than usual? Maybe. Was it different? Possibly. Was I still doing something I love? Yes. But did I want to cry? If you know me then you know the answer is yes and some days I did (in the privacy of my own moment—although these are few and far between in a summer camp day). Do I want to go through this again? Absolutely… and the reason is because of the long lasting benefit of what this time (these times) can and will stimulate for my camp community. The community we create over the course of 3 weeks of a summer, twice a summer.
On my recent weekend away, one of my dear friends poetically captioned a posted photo “time is meaningless,” actually it was #timeismeaningless. I have spent days reflecting and reusing this simple yet completely complex statement. If you were to replace the word ‘time’ with any other word, this statement would carry a completely different feeling. Try it… Right? But when it comes to time, when it comes to the distance, the space, the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years…when it comes to your camp friends, time really is meaningless. You can pick up from the exact moment you are in and nothing has changed. Even if everything has changed, that friendship in that time has gone unscathed. The time between the two has no meaning but the friendship has all the meaning in the world.
It is times like these that I hope cultivate each camp season. It is this meaningless sense of time that acts as the gift I can provide to my camp community and in turn, the reward for me is the reminder how these times have shaped me. As hard as a day feels, as frustrating or difficult as a conversation can be, the times that we create at camp and the friendships that create those times are the definition to why I do what I do and why I will always remain the camper at heart.
T-minus three days until my camp staff arrive. Ten days until our teens arrive. Nine months ago I was shrugging in confusion that the summer was over and I had no idea where it went. Now, I’m in complete “denial” that it’s all happening again … or so I thought.
Let me explain. I have previously shared about the 10 months in between the end of a camp season and the start of a new one. Much of what I shared was about the fullness you feel by the amount of work there is to be done. And the satisfaction you feel when it is all over and the message is of success. But now, here I am only days away from my favorite time in my year, more so in my career cycle, and I’m floating in what feels like a state of complete and utter denial.
What is it that I’m in denial of? This is the interesting part. Every day for the past 2 weeks colleagues and friends have asked, “How are you feeling?” “When does camp start?” “Are you ready?” Many of these questions evoke mild feelings of anxiety but more so the response, “I’m good, just in a state of denial.”
Is it really denial? I had to do myself a favor and look up the proper (Wikipedia) definition of denial, because all I kept hearing in my head was… “Whoever denied it supplied it” (thank you, camp, for that one!). Anyway, when I looked up the word “deny” and saw its actual definition; asserting that a statement or allegation is not true, this did not help to clarify the feelings I have been facing. The definition continued; a psychological defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead. This definition is a bit more relatable but not quite. Then I thought about a word my college girls and I used to toss around when describing the end of our Lehigh days and the start of our “real lives.” NERVITED- the feeling of being nervous and excited.
It was as if the fog cleared for me. I’m not in denial about the culmination of a years worth of work coming to its climax, I’m nervited about it. I’m not feeling like I want to reject all the staff and teens that are headed my way in a couple of days; I’m nervited about how they will receive each other, our camp program and me. I’m not too uncomfortable leaving the regularity of my day to day New York City life behind; I’m nervited about the changes this will bring. I am nervous about the unknown. I am excited by the unknown. I am crystal clear that I am not one to deny… but always one to take the challenge head on.
This feeling of nervited-ness is a common one. It’s one I talk to parents, families, teens and staff about regularly. It’s a changing feeling that flutters through your belly and radiates through your face. To all who prepare to embark on new experiences, engage in new relationships and try something out of the ordinary, the best advice I can give you is don’t deny the nervousness and excitement of it all, embrace it. To be nervited gives you a whole lot to look forward to! Summer of 2013, I’m ready for you … now get here.
I have clear visions of my daydreams from years ago. Images of clear blue skies, the shiniest sunny days, a megaphone in my hand while my announcements splatter across campus. These visions would make my eyes light up with the anticipation that one day I would be a Camp Director…
As far as I’m concerned there was no minor or major in college that helped to prepare for the career track of Camp Director. I did summer “internships” of working in the battlefields of my industry of interest but when the fateful time came to walk the graduation walk, my dreams of becoming a Camp Director were still somewhat candy coated. I believed my work life would be filled with summers spent lakeside, green grass under my toes and echoes of spirited voices filling the clean mountain air. But these are the times that campers and camp staff revel in. Not necessarily the year-round Camp Director.
I’m sure many camp professionals can relate to the question, “What do you do the rest of the year?” which happens to be a favorite of mine. Without fail, anytime I meet someone new and share with them my profession, the follow up is “oh that’s awesome, so what do you do the rest of the year?” For me, I like to marinate on the question. I like to pretend like I’m pondering how original the question is and then rattle off a couple of easy breezy year-round roles of a camp director… recruitment, sales, marketing, communications, social media, permit applications, facility management, logistics, operations, development, fundraising, programming, staffing, staff training, staff development, program implementation, therapy (for families and staff), and all the administrative duties that come along with each of these professions. Sound awesome now? Awesomely challenging!
It wasn’t until I walked in the shoes of many camp mentors that I learned that being a Camp Director wasn’t all sunshine, sun tans and raspy instructions into a PA system.
This camp world took work. Actual, year-round, dedicated, long hours, separation from the world around you, travel, meals on the go, phone calls at all hours of the day, coordinated, puzzle-piecing, organizational, programmatic work. And this work didn’t just happen June through August. This was a full time gig.
Just like an event planner, we, the camp professionals plan for the big event. In my case the big event spans over the course of eight weeks. It is within these eight weeks that I hold my breath, pray I don’t turn blue and sigh when it’s all over and the last staff member has exited the premises. That feeling is awesome. The two weeks after are awesome. The outpour of emails, letters, Facebook postings and voicemails are incredibly rewarding and remind me why working my tuchus off for two months is well worth my while. If it wasn’t for the rest of the year, what would we have to live for?
As we round the end of the “off season” and head into the “camp season” I wish all my colleagues, camp professionals and those who live vicariously through the year-round work we do and incredibly awesome and successful summer season. Bask in the day dreams, embrace the hard decisions, recognize the supporters and appreciate that although challenging, we have the most awesome career in the world…
Molly Hott is the director of 92Y Passport NYC, a Jewish overnight camp based in New York City focusing on fashion, film, music, culinary arts, and musical theater.
A very close and longtime friend read my first blog post and reminded me of a piece I had written years ago that I only shared with some of my nearest and dearest … my camp friends. There was a point in my life and career when I couldn’t imagine living without camp but couldn’t configure how camp would fit in my life as an occupation. There were so many positive experiences that connected me to camp, to my friends, my personal growth and acceptance and with all of those experiences came great emotion. From that great emotion came:
Molly Hott, June 27, 2008
Camp is where I learned to be me
And where I let you know, it’s ok to be you
Camp is where I learned to make friends
And where I learned to be a friend
Camp is where I learned how to make my bed
And where I taught others about the importance of hospital corners
Camp is where I saw my first remembered sunset
And where I shared my first remembered sunrise
Camp is where I learned to hold hands confidently
And where I shared the importance of having a hand to hold
Camp is where I cried myself to sleep missing home
And where I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe when I had to leave
Camp is where I saw my first starry night
And where I shared the sighting of my first shooting star
Camp is where I sang and cheered until I had no voice left
And where I learned that my voice would never really come back
Camp is where I learned to respect, my counselors, my campers, my friends and myself
And where I learned about disciplining my staff, my campers, my friends and myself
Camp is where my sister and I became friends
And where I learned that my friends would become my sisters
Camp is where I learned to try everything and anything
And where I learned my strengths and weaknesses
Camp is where I learned that tears of joy can overwhelm you at any time
And where I learned that those tears turn to the greatest memories
Camp is where I learned to laugh until it hurt
And where I learned that laughing is the best medicine
Camp is where I learned to live with others and share common space
And where I learned that wearing the same thing every day is cool
Camp is where I learned how to separate my laundry
And where I learned that I would come home with none of my own clothes
Camp is where I learned I would sleep my deepest and most comfortably
And where I learned that waking up next to your friends every morning is treasured
Camp is where I learned about music and how to change the words to every great song
And where I learned that singing at the top of your lungs anywhere at any time with camp friends is acceptable
Camp is where I learned to love my counselors, my campers and my friends for who they are
And where I learned that each of these people would somehow remain in my life forever
Camp is where I learned about tradition, culture and spirit
And where I learned that these things can change but still remain the same
Camp is where I learned that there is no greater place to be
And where I learned that there is no greater experience for a child, an adult and for me
Camp is where I learned to be me
And where I let you know, it’s ok to be you.
To read this back, almost 5 years later and know that my feelings remain the same is amazing. My relationships remain as strong if not stronger and my love of camp and the experiences it has enabled me to create continue to develop way beyond my wildest dreams…
Molly Hott is the director of 92Y Passport NYC, a Jewish overnight camp based in New York City focusing on fashion, film, music, culinary arts, and musical theater.
A Jewish 30-something from Long Island who doesn’t eat red meat or pork… how original? This very same girl was brought up in the secular world of public school. Attended a traditional/secular summer camp. Graduated with a BS degree in Social Relations (yes that is real) from a liberal arts university (only to recognize this word ‘secular’ as an adult). Is the director of a Jewish sleep away camp at 92Y in New York City… not all that typical. Well that’s me, not your typical, but somewhat stereotypical Jew.
I have always considered myself and my Jewish upbringing as “traditionally and culturally Jewish.” Temple nursery school followed by weekly Hebrew school, Shabbat dinner with the family, Bat Mitzvah at 13 – a real “Hott Party” – and then was strongly encouraged (aka forced) to continue on with Confirmation classes. I thought of this all as Jewish social hour not Torah study, so it wasn’t all torture. What did I learn? I am still asking myself the same question. Aleph, Bet, Vet- Aleph, Bet, Vet…What comes next?
I tend to do Judaism in a way that is most comfortable to me. Feeling guilt, I attend synagogue on High Holy days. Family meals to celebrate the “big” Jewish holidays like Rosh, Yom, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Passover. Yes I know Thanksgiving isn’t really a Jewish holiday but it is a time my family comes together, overeats, knocks back wine and revisits the memories that were at some point excruciatingly embarrassing – doesn’t that constitute a Jewish holiday? Although with all these non-contributions to the Jewish community, I am 100% a Jew.
This ignorant Jew at 30 years old found herself on an interview for the position as director of a Jewish summer camp. I knew I could easily sell myself for this, I am Jewish and I live camp. I never cared to pay attention to the interests, beliefs, or practices of the Jewish community around me before. But now with this incredible opportunity at a world renowned institution, why not try to care?! I was willingly, forcing myself into exploring Judaism, not Torah but Judaism. This exploration scared the “bleep” out of me but excited me all at the same time. This was my challenge; learn about Judaism so I could develop the best Jewish sleep away camp program out there. It wasn’t until becoming the camp director this progressive, pluralistic, Jewish summer camp that I opened myself up to the exploration of what any of this means to me.
I have turned this challenge into opportunity. I have taken my stereotypical Jewish way of thinking and thrown it out the window. I have pushed myself to have an open mind and freeing appreciation for Jewish learning in order to empower our Jewish community of teens and staff at Passport NYC to explore Judaism openly, comfortably, relevantly, progressively, pluralistically and in a way where Judaism is “cool.” Opportunity has become my operative word. This non-red meat or pork eating Jewish girl from Long Island welcomes you on the evolving Jewish journey from creation to continuation of one of the greatest Jewish summer camp programs out there today!