AMANDA SAGARIN & ADAM THOMASHOW
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
Adam and I knew each other in high school, as we were both participants in URJ’s NFTY-NE (North American Federation of Temple Youth). I grew up outside of Boston and Adam in Central Massachusetts. However, we were not friends – we had never even had a conversation. The summer after we graduated high school, in 2002, we both worked at URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY (where we had attended as campers in high school students at different times).
Was it love right away?
The very first day we arrived we were waiting for orientation to start and decided to take a walk. By the end of the walk we knew that would become friends. Time at camp unravels differently than in “real life” and after a few weeks our friendship had grown and started taking the direction towards couplehood.
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
Adam was headed to college in Connecticut and I was taking a semester off, having deferred from a school in Massachusetts. Over a milkshake we decided we would try to have a long-distance relationship. This worked until the spring of our first year in college when we went our separate ways. Several years later, after not seeing or speaking with each other, we reconnected and last summer we were married.
Amanda Sagarin and Adam Thomashow were married in summer 2012. They currently live in Washington, DC where she is a social worker interested in systems-level change around breaking cycles of poverty and the empowerment of girls and women. He is completing his education while deciding between several different types of technology to work within.
I can’t stop thinking about Jordana Horn’s recent post about her son who came home from camp early. I don’t know what camp he attended, what he did to make sure he was sent home, or any of the other circumstances, yet I feel that we failed him. We – the community of camps and the partnership of camps and parents – failed to give him the best possible experience. And that’s a shame.
Certainly, there are youngsters who are not “camp kids.” These are the ones who, for whatever reason, just can’t be in the 24/7 camp environment with its noise, lack of privacy, and outdoorsy living. And, of course, there are the “lifers” who would spend every minute in camp if given the opportunity. (A few parents asked this summer if we would open a camp boarding school, so their children could spend all year with us!)
Just like most things in life, however, most kids are in the middle. Especially in their first summer at camp, most kids enter with some trepidation and are able to soar once something “clicks.” That can happen through a friendship, a connection with a staff member, a particular activity, or locating a quiet place under a special tree. Sometimes it’s easy to find and, other times, it takes some help from the staff. And in some situations, we call the parents in for help. If we do our jobs right, we get everyone involved in the right way and at the right time, so we can help make the magic of camp come alive before it’s too late.
Where we so often go wrong – and by “we,” I mean both camp professionals and parents – is that we don’t really listen to the kids. Sometimes, we are so concerned with our own successes that we don’t hear the kid advocating for himself. And we forget that this advocacy is, in and of itself, a success. Finishing camp is not the be all and end all of life experience; it is possible to have a full and rich life without completing a summer of overnight camp. So if a kid goes home from camp, it doesn’t have to be a failure or a loss; in fact, it can be just the opposite – it can be an opportunity for learning and for growth. If we push too hard and wait too long, we set our kids up to do what Jordana’s son did – something that they know will get them sent home. And then we, as the adults, get angry. But at that point, whose fault is it? Can we blame a child who has been telling us what he really needs for doing something to make this clear when we just won’t listen? Wouldn’t we better off thanking him for knowing his limits and showing him that, sometimes, kids can know better than adults?
One of my favorite songs on the high holidays says: “Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul. Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born and reborn and reborn.” For tens of thousands of kids each summer, Jewish camp is the land of their soul – it is the place where they can most be themselves. With so many camps to choose from, I believe that there is the “right” camp for virtually every kid. Sometimes it takes a little bit of work to find it, but it’s there. And in the cases when a particular camp doesn’t fit – or camping in general just isn’t right – it’s up to us, as the adults, to help the child return home so he can return to himself, return to the strength and support of his family, and be reborn as (or, at least, reminded of!) the amazing person he is.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and whatever comes next) aren’t the culprit. At least not by themselves. Like any situation, parents and guardians are responsible to monitor the playground their children are in: in this case the virtual world of social media. The interaction between counselor and camper doesn’t need to vary based on the medium. Parents need to be engaged in their kids’ activities and kids need to know that parents will be observing. If campers and counselors are friends on Facebook, that in of itself isn’t bad. We shouldn’t worry excessively over one connection versus another without reason. The relationship and bond forged between camper and counselor is unique and important – platforms like Facebook are new meeting grounds and we have to learn how to live with them, adapt them to our rules, and monitor them.
Some camper-counselor bunk relationships are important and influential. The camper-counselor bond is important and can be akin to a big brother or a mentor when one doesn’t exist for the camper. Personally, I’m proud of the decades-long interaction which has grown between campers of mine and me, augmented by the use of technology including Facebook.
As a counselor I had some bunks, and was a camper in some bunks, that were legendary. Why should a connection like that be forced to end simply because of the fear of Facebook? Both the camper and the counselor choosing to connect through social media should know and accept that their interactions may, and will be, monitored by responsible adults. If a parent reads or sees postings that give cause for alarm or suspicion (inappropriate material, suggestive pictures, language) then it should be cause to react. As a parent you will know when the relationship is inappropriate. But to forbid it simply because “bad stuff happens in Facebook” is just naive. It’s akin to worrying about all the bad men on the sex offender registry but ignoring the fact that 90% of abuse is caused by someone the child knows – the fear is displaced. Rather than run from it, embrace the technology and take ownership of it.
It’s also possible that having campers “following” them will cause counselors to behave better online as well knowing that kids are watching. Imagine if the fact that a counselor has camper friends results in the counselor not posting pictures of her drunken spring break theatrics or profanity ladened posts about his friends?
So when should the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter relationship be pulled? If either the counselor or camper starts to demand too much; if one side, especially the counselor, begins to act inappropriate or suggest age inappropriate activities and relationships; if one starts to act as a jealous or envious girl/boyfriend. You will know it when you see it. And when you see it, you need to do something about it. That’s when parents should be notifying camp directors, peers should be telling each other it’s not appropriate and ultimately when directors make the tough decision to not rehire because that staffer just doesn’t have good judgment.
We use a good rule of thumb in our work at Baltimore Child Abuse Center: if the other adult likes your kid more than you like your own kid, that could be cause for alarm. Embrace the new technologies that exist and recognize your campers want to use social media to keep camp going year round. By participating and monitoring the conversation, you become a part of the experience.
Concerned how kids and technology interact? Want to know more about how to talk with your kids and family about being safe, visit our safety pages at www.baltimorechildabusecenter.org/prevent_abuse to learn more.
Adam Rosenberg is the Executive Director at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
A couple of years ago I was walking to synagogue with my two boys on the morning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and I wanted to engage them in a discussion about the holiday. At the time Yadid was seven and Yishama was five. To get the ball rolling I simply said, “Another name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaDin. So besides celebrating a new year, it is also the time when we reflect on how we might want to improve ourselves in the coming year.” At this point I felt a huge urge to just tell the boys how I wanted them to improve. I know that I am not alone. I want my children to be the best they can be so if I love my children so much, how could I stay silent and not tell them how to improve? It seems so clear to me what they need to change to be the mensches I so desperately what them to become, so of course I should just give them a list, right? I decided that instead of going in that direction, I would shift the conversation and said, “So since today is the day we work on our improving ourselves, let’s start. Tell me what you think I need to be working on to be a better abba (father).”
Wow, what a difference! Not only did they give me amazing feedback that I use until this day, but without any additional prompting they started giving each other feedback. What a blessing to be part of this conversation. Holding back my own voice at this moment created room for us all to grow and improve. I know that this internal voice of the overbearing parent is coming from a good place, but I also know that it does not always get the desired results. So, where did I learn this?
Upon reflection, I realized that I learned this technique as a junior counselor at Jewish overnight camp. It was there in the context of managing a bunk of children that I learned how to create an ideal learning environment. It was there that I learned how I might get more bees with honey then vinegar (another important message for Rosh Hashanah). I also learned the important difference between being authoritarian and authoritative. Seeding power actually creates space for other voices. So years later as a father I knew that suspending my own need to share my love created space for us all to share our love with each other. I cannot say I got it right that year as a JC, but I deeply appreciate the space of camp and what it taught me. Someone else who was more experienced could have done it better, but in the spirit of Jewish camp, they got out of the way to make room for an 18-year-old to find his voice. I in turn learned how to make room for my campers and eventually my own children. Jewish camp is magical. Yesterday’s campers are today’s counselors and tomorrow’s parents. If it was not for camp I am not sure I would have been blessed with the loving, powerful, and thoughtful critique from a five-year old. Jewish camp has cultivated in me the desire, skills, and confidence to be a more accessible and loving parent.
Shanah Tova -May we all be blessed to make more space for more loving voices this year.
A few weeks ago, in a parking lot in Montreal, with hip-hop music blaring from oversized speakers, and lanes delineated for a fleet of buses to pull into, I found myself waiting with 200 or so other parents for my son Jonah to return from sleep-away camp. It was hardly a Norman Rockwell painting, but there was still something timeless about the feelings of anticipation and excitement that were as palpable as the humidity in the August air. Jonah had only been away 10 days but it felt longer. Of course, if I’m being honest, it also felt like it went too fast. It’s always a little surprising how quickly my wife and I are able to adapt to life on our own. Still, we missed the kid and, like everyone else in the parking lot, we could hardly wait for his bus – Senior Boys – to finally arrive.
But we were also, we knew, different from other parents. Jonah, who’s 14, is on the autism spectrum and while we were hopeful he had a good time, first of all, we were even more hopeful he’d gained some new measure of independence at camp. We care a lot less about whether he learned to water ski then whether he learned how to do the simplest things, things other parents take for granted – like learn to eat a new food or maybe just hold a five-minute conversation with a bunkmate. And while most parents with teenagers are trying to find ways to keep their kids closer, hoping, in vain, that they won’t change too much, we’re continually hoping Jonah will come home after being free of our inevitable worrying about him and start pushing us away. We hope he’ll begin to understand it’s his job to change.
In her recent memoir, Next Stop: An Autistic Son Grows Up, Washington D.C. journalist Glen Finland writes about her heroic and poignant efforts to help David, her 21-year-old son on the spectrum, learn how to navigate the city’s subway system and, much more important, learn to be an individual, an adult. But, of course, it’s Finland who has to learn, while writing the memoir, how to be on her own: “After decades of being my intellectually disabled son’s advocate, how could I just shut off my dependency on his dependency on me?”
It was a question I was asking myself as the Senior Boys bus finally arrived in the parking lot and Jonah exited a little shyly. He had a deep suntan and an array of mosquito bites on his arms, legs, and neck. He had a growth spurt this summer and was already taller than me by the time he left for camp, but he seemed to tower over me now. He had the beginnings of a mustache before he left but I could also see whiskers on his chin and a significant accumulation of pimples on his forehead. Jonah can be hard to get information out of at the best of times, but he seemed quieter than usual. And, maybe it was my imagination, but it also seemed like the things he wasn’t telling us were not just things he couldn’t be bothered to tell us, but things he decided not to tell us. He was acting, in other words, just like a teenager.
My wife caught up to the camp director and Jonah’s shadow and they told her that Jonah had a fantastic time. He didn’t make close friends, but the kids at the camp liked him and accepted him on his own terms. He was, my wife was assured, independent, pretty much. Oh yeah, he also tried lasagna and water-skied. Jonah wanted to get home for lunch – definitely not lasagna, we assured him – so we didn’t linger. But then just as my wife and I were driving out of the parking lot, my son realized he did have something important he wanted to tell us, after all. A decision I’m guessing he’d reached on the bus and on his own. “Next year,” he said, “I’m going to camp for the whole summer.”
I can’t believe it’s over. All of a sudden, I transitioned from the tie-dyed 24/7 magic of camp to the polo shirts, big binders and giant potential of a year of learning and teaching at a really cool school. I can’t believe school has started. All of a sudden, I’m transitioning to the daily magic of the classroom buzz – and non-classroom activities – at school from the 24/7 constant young role modeling of camp.
Kids, for sure, can’t believe camp is over. Take a look at their Instagram accounts, their most recent tweets. Picture after picture. Camp dates and rates for summer 2014 are already being re-tweeted. Countdowns have begun – only 330 more days until I get to go home again!
As I look around my office at The Davis Academy, it’s like I never left. My Moses action figures kept my office safe, and my eclectic collection of books and toys are perfectly positioned to get pulled at a moment’s notice to teach learners yet again! But, if you look closely, you’ll see changes. A new water bottle from Sustainability Shabbat at Camp Coleman. A copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, ready to teach about silent prayer to Davis 8th graders before they go for a hike in the shady wooded areas on a retreat at Coleman. My Coleman laptop, perched in an unprecarious but funny-looking position next to my Davis desktop. A ceramic mug and a new picture frame on the wall, both gifts from awesome camp staff.
I look at your kids (former campers, future campers, current students) and it’s like they’ve never left. The bright eyes. The shy smiles. The neon-colored backpacks. But again, look closely.They’re taller. Their hair is less Bieber-esque than last year. They learned to read Torah, or lead blessings, or how to climb a tall tower or to make shattered glass into a stunning mosaic. They can’t wait to talk about the sights they’ve seen: The waterfall! The South! The capitals of Europe!
Looking at it both ways, it’s hard to decide what to love more – school or camp? Camp or school? Without school, who would these kids be? Without camp, how would their lives turn out? The combined experiences in our communities (camp, school, home, synagogue, JCC, a university alumni’s mommy and me group, whatever works) are shaping our Jewish future. So I don’t love one place more than the other. I love the promise of a bright and exciting future.
As the Semisonic song goes, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” And as we wrap up our Ranch Camp summer and I reflect back on our season, this seems to ring especially true. It’s not simply the succession of the summer, where one session ends only to usher in the next. For me it is the sense that everything is connected and that everything happens for a reason; and that one thing always leads us to another.
With this philosophy in mind, you will understand and appreciate that August/September is my favorite time of year. Now is the time when we clean and pack-up camp, rummage through mounds of lost and found, and get feedback from our families and staff. I cannot tell you how gratifying it is to hear from families about the wonderful experiences that their children have had over the summer with us at camp – learning new skills, meeting new friends, and asking important questions about themselves and the world. Of course, I would be amiss if I did not also recognize that some of this feedback is not always so positive or easy to hear. But I want to take this opportunity to state very clearly from a camp director’s perspective, so that everyone knows – as wonderful as it is to get compliments, it is critical to receive and accept criticism as well. After all, as James Joyce said, “Mistakes are portals of discovery.” It is truly rare in life that we improve as a result of success; we must struggle, and sometimes fail, in order to achieve greatness.
With our successes and failures, we become stronger as a camp, just as our campers become stronger from the opportunities and challenges that they face during their time with us. As your children’s camp season finishes for the summer, I encourage parents to fill out your camp’s end of the season survey and let them know how they have impacted your children this summer. Sifting through this information helps camp teams to pull together and start to plan for the next summer season. As I said at the start of this piece, this is a wonderful time of year. From where I stand now, I can see all of what we have accomplished over the course of the last 10 weeks since the start of camp, but I can also see all the potential of what is yet to come; all of the new beginnings that will emerge from closing and reflecting upon the end of this season.
Looking back on the past few months, I wouldn’t call it a “cruel summer.” Nor would I call it “the summer of my discontent.” But sending my boys to overnight camp for the first time was a far rockier road than I’d hoped I’d be traveling. The summer ended with me struggling with an odd issue that I’d never anticipated: What do you do when your kid does something wrong…and gets exactly what he wants as a result?
See, there is apparently an unspoken rule of omerta when it comes to unhappiness at camp, which I’m about to break. You are not supposed to admit that your child did not have an “amazing” time at camp. You are not supposed to talk about the fact that the camp called you or emailed you every day. You are supposed to only post the shiny, happy pictures.
Perhaps it was Facebook that misled me. I assumed my experience would follow the progression apparently conformed to by all my friends and their children. After all, all of my friends displayed in photos on their respective Timelines – and every single kid, according to these pictures, has “the time of their life” at camp:
Photo One: “Dropping X off at camp bus; we are going to miss him but he is going to have the time of his life!!!” Photo of child boarding bus with timid, yet anticipatory, smile on his face.
Photo Two: “X is having the time of his life at camp!” Photo of X smiling, arms around new friends-for-life whom he will eventually request as college suitemates his freshman year.
Photo Three: “Reunited, and it feels so good!” Photo of whole family hugging dirty, yet happy-looking X at camp visiting day.
Photo Four: “Cannot believe X actually tried Y!” Photo of X doing something completely brave and out of character for X, like going down a 5,000 foot zipline, cooking a feast by himself for 400 people or para-sailing.
Photo Five: “So glad to have X home – he had the time of his life!” Photo of parents hugging dirtier, yet happy-looking, kid X as he gets off the bus.
I assumed this trajectory would hold true for me and my boys, even though it was at odds with my own experience as a child. I was extremely homesick at camp. I was also told in no uncertain terms by my parents that I would have to suck it up (they may not have used those words) and deal. Which, dear reader, I did.
Despite my own time at camp, though, I was a veritable Pollyanna of Positivity and Propaganda while packing my own boys for camp. I told them over and over how much fun they would have and what a great experience it would be. I convinced even myself.
When the other one of my sons told me as I dropped him off, “PLEASE take me home with you – I won’t use the iPad or the Kinect or the television for three weeks!,” I was upset but didn’t show it. I told him that of course he was nervous, but that everyone was initially, and that he would be fine.
And yet, somehow, he wasn’t.
I got calls home from the camp. Some days he took positive steps forward, other days he took two steps backward. As I told my husband at one point, “This is like all the bad parts of parenting – the stress, the worry, the frustration – and none of the good parts, like the smiles, the satisfaction or the happiness that comes from seeing your kid succeed.”
Finally, when the 10:45 pm Saturday night call came from the camp arranging a phone call with my son the next day, I knew we were nearing a breaking point. I just didn’t know who was going to be the one to break.
We had a talk and I made it clear that I did not want to come and get him, and that he would make it the final week of camp and do well – and be proud of himself for having “made it.” But within hours, he deliberately broke a camp rule in order to get out… and there I was on the highway, driving the two hours to go pick him up and bring him home.
I’m still trying to parse out what lessons were learned. I am having a lot of difficulty stomaching the idea that my son did something wrong deliberately…and as a result, got EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTED, i.e. to come home. The joyful reunion with him was tarred by my having to discipline him (no TV, no Kinect, no iPad, lots of chores).
The trajectory was off. But no one ever talks about the kids who don’t have a great time at camp.
See, no one posts a picture of the happy-yet-sad face a kid makes when he’s thrilled to see you but knows you are deeply disappointed in him. No one tells you what the “takeaway” of such an experience is supposed to be. You have to figure it all out yourself: what went wrong? Was it the choice of camp? Was it the kid’s maturity or lack thereof? Was it some weird alchemy of the kids in the bunk and counselors? Was it something you don’t even know?
Maybe it really is “the time of your life” – in the sense that in life, things do, on occasion, go way off track from how you’d expected them to go. Everyone assumes it will all go right – but who helps you out when things go wrong? Any answers or help, please send them my way.
Like this post? Read more of Jordana’s writing on Kveller.com.
I am sick of hearing about the VMAs and Miley Cyrus. Yup – she got on stage in a latex bikini, twerked with Robin Thicke and stuck her tongue out, a lot. Lady Gaga was wearing a mermaid thong get-up and lots of others dressed, danced and used language in a way we may not want our 11 year olds to replicate. Get over it. They are entertainers – provocateurs – in a world where 15 minutes of fame is now measured in a 6 second Vine. We are parents and this is where some of the hard stuff comes in. Stop the mass whining and start the real discussions.
What did we expect from a show celebrating the art of music videos on a channel that doesn’t even play music videos anymore? As I see it – the whole goal of the show to raise awareness of MTV- and they are going to do that by pushing the envelope, as they do every year. Otherwise we would be writing blog posts about how they have lost their edge and aren’t connected to their core audience (which, by the way, is 18-34 year olds).
Whenever something happens that requires dealing with some tough parenting issues, the blogosphere goes crazy. Sure – the show was rated PG and the content was more risqué than that. To be expected from a channel that isn’t Disney. I watched bits and pieces of the show, and was more embarrassed for myself that I had to Google “twerking” (I was getting it confused with duffnering and couldn’t figure out why twitter was going nuts) than I was for the entertainers. I went to bed feeling every one of my 41 years. My kids didn’t watch, but by 10 am on Monday they had seen plenty of GIFs and YouTube videos that probably were edited to make it worse than the actual performances.
So, while making Rainbow Looms, we had some great conversation last night. We talked about what “sexy” means to a nine year old, how it doesn’t equate to pretty, and what makes it bad and good. That led to talking about what is appropriate behavior for our family (and how short our shorts can be) and who our role models should be. I told them about the counselors that were the first responders and revived Ethan Kadish, those that ran into a burning bunk at Camp Simcha to get the campers out safely. We talked about the firefighters in the thick of it fighting the California Rim Fire. We talked about their counselors, their teachers, their coaches, their Sunday school aides. The people that shared services with them this summer, talked them through getting up on waterskiis for the first time, cheered on their goals and helped them through some friendship issues. Hopefully, when the girls are making decisions, they will look towards these people, not someone dressed up as a teddy bear.
I am not going to point fingers and say that Billy Rae should throw a sweater on his daughter or wire her mouth shut. I wouldn’t want him to come into my house and question the parenting decisions I have made over the years. Miley works hard and has done so her whole life – voice lessons, acting lessons, dance class, working out and probably lots more. She gave up a “regular” childhood so we could plop our kids down in front of a “wholesome” show when we needed to cook dinner or catch and extra few minutes of sleep on a Sunday morning. In essence, we created her. We bought the concert tickets, the t-shirts, the dolls and that damn guitar (that I still can’t figure out how to shut off) with her face plastered on it. Coming of age in a digital world isn’t easy for anyone, let alone a child star. The tools for adoration are instantaneous. When The Beatles hit the stage or Mick Jagger perfected his swagger, there was a clip on the 5:00pm news and a picture in a magazine a month later. Today we turn to social media as quick to love as we are to hate.
As someone who struggles to get up in front of a roomful of colleagues for a formal work presentation, part of me wants to congratulate Miley for having no shame and for having the confidence to get up in front of millions knowing very well that for everyone that is going to love her, many more will pan her.
Online, on TV or in a newspaper, our children are going to see and hear things that are inappropriate. Our children’s own actions, words, grades, tweets, photos and attire will disappoint and hurt us as much as they make us proud. Billy Rae came right out with a tweet supporting his daughter. We all support our children in ways we see fit. Some of us will choose tough love, others will take the “I’m your best friend” route and some will try to fix everything for their children. For me, I can only arm our children with the knowledge and values I think are important. How will they act upon it? I’ll have to follow along on Instagram.
This summer, Habonim Dror Camp Na’aleh did something unprecedented at Jewish camp – we had a transgender bunk counselor. At Camp Na’aleh we live according to the values of Habonim Dror and the kibbutz movement. Campers and staff at Na’aleh integrate the values of cooperation, equality and activism into their everyday experience at camp. So when I was approached during the past year by Amit Schwalb, a transgender staff member, about shifting his role from garden specialist to bunk counselor, my first instinct was not to ask, “Are we ready to have a transgender staff member living with kids.” It was to ask, “How can we make this happen?”
As camp directors we are faced with difficult decisions on a daily basis. We are consistently put to the test. We hope and pray with each decision we make, that our collective experience doesn’t fail us and we make the right choices. But every now and again we are faced with something new, something we’ve never dealt with before and experience isn’t something we can fall back on. That was where I was as I started to explore honoring Amit’s request.
At Na’aleh we pride ourselves on being an incredibly welcoming community. An inclusive, encouraging, safe environment for children and staff members from all walks of life. We have sporty and non-sporty campers. We have day school kids and non-day school kids. We have campers who have been adopted from other countries and we have both campers and staff who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Every summer and throughout the year we build this incredible community where no matter who you are, you feel welcome.
Amit has been a camper and staff member at Na’aleh since the summer of 2004. He has been our gan (garden) specialist for the last two summers and in 2012 he fully came out as transgender. When his request to live in a bunk was brought to my attention, I understandably had concerns. Amit’s current position as gan specialist didn’t require him to live with campers as he is part of the technical/specialty staff and not a general bunk counselor. I wondered what limitations there would be in this new arrangement by making a change to living with campers. There were a number of other concerns, but despite any of them, I never once questioned whether our campers and staff would embrace this unprecedented arrangement. Our staff, campers and I respect Amit, trust him, and love him.
Since this was uncharted territory for me, and, as I later discovered, unprecedented in the entire Jewish camp world, I solicited opinions from other camp directors and professionals in the camping field. Some were encouraging, and many raised their own concerns. When I sat down to discuss all my thoughts with Amit, my decision was made easy. I asked him a question: “Why do you want this?” Amit replied with one simple answer, he said that as gan specialist he isn’t able to create the same bonds and connections with campers that the bunk counselors do. He felt as though he was missing out on something in his camp experience. By being a bunk counselor, living with campers, helping them when they are homesick at night, being there to wake them up in the morning, cheering their accomplishments, encouraging something new or just hanging out and playing cards during free time, would give him the opportunity to develop these connections.
This beautiful answer that completely embodies the immense responsibility of being a summer camp counselor made my decision incredibly easy. All my questions that came afterwards were essentially meaningless; we were going to make this happen.
We put together a plan that took into consideration Amit’s comfort, that of the campers and of course, their parents. The plan, an affirmation of our commitment to Amit (and to every member of our community!) was sent to the parents. The response we received was only positive and encouraging, reconfirming that we were moving in the right direction. Amit and his campers had an incredibly rewarding summer. Not only was he able to make stronger connections with the campers in the bunk, but he was also able to be a part of real transformative moments outside the cabin as well. Amit hiked with the campers on their group tiyul (hiking trip) and spent time talking about their home lives and educating them about his. He also got to be a part of some really silly group moments that they all remember fondly. None of these things would have been possible if Amit wasn’t living with these campers and a part of their group this summer.
When I think back now on the process of making this decision, I think it’s really all about trust. I had trust in Amit, and I had trust in our campers, but more importantly I trusted our community. One of the parents said to me in an email response that this was a wonderful example of being able to walk the walk on many of the messages that we discuss in our families and the values we try to teach our kids.
We are all really proud of the fact that Na’aleh is the first Jewish camp to have a transgender staff person living with campers of the same gender they identify with. We are even prouder that we have a community that lives its values to the fullest, even when it may not seem easy at the onset. Beautiful things are capable of happening at a Jewish summer camp, especially when each camp isn’t afraid to live its own values to the fullest.