Watch this moving short video about Eisner and Crane Lake Camps’ work educating students about bullying:
This was a day unlike any other in my 19 years with Eisner and Crane Lake Camps — in the most remarkable and beautiful way. For years, our camp community has heard me speak about Eisner and Crane Lake Camps under a “bubble.” We want camp to be a safe space where people can be themselves in all of their diversity and uniqueness, knowing they wouldn’t be judged. Over the past year, it has become clear to me that we needed to do what we could to push the safety of that bubble out into the communities where our campers and staff live. We’ve heard story after story of kids being victimized by bullies— story after story of kids taking their own lives due to bullying. And we know that as Jews, we can’t stand idly by the suffering of our neighbors.
Our second-year Olim Fellows (leadership program for second year staff) had an incredible experience at their retreat at Camp Coleman in the fall of 2012, where together we viewed the documentary “Bully,” about communities across the country and their struggles with the realities of bullying in their school systems. The Olim Fellows came away determined to create a day of programming which would inspire the campers and staff of Eisner and Crane Lake Camps to be the change we want to see in the world when it comes to bullying.
The day began with the entire Eisner community in the Beit Tefilah, our outdoor sanctuary. It began with the Jewish story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, when hurtful words and actions tore apart a community that stood by rather than stood up. It continued with the refrain of a brand new song that artist in residence, Alan Goodis, wrote with the help of Eisner campers all this week. “You can beat me up, tear me down, I will not hide/’Cause I got a feeling that everything will be alright.” Together, we set the stage for a day that would be about both acknowledging the realities of bullying and committing ourselves to changing the world through our actions.
Campers and staff experienced the meaningful programming our Olim Fellows created. We reflected on the reality that, when we feel good about ourselves, we neither bully nor are susceptible to bullies. Each camper shared what made them proudest about themselves; each camper took the opportunity to practice finding the good in each person; each camper had a role-play experience of being the bully and someone who was being bullied, all of us learned how to stand up against bullies and stand up for victims of bullying.
Each unit also spent some incredible, emotional time with David Long. David and his wife Tina’s son Tyler lost his life to bullycide three and a half years ago after years of abuse and bullying. Their story was one of the five stories told in the “Bully” documentary. David shared the work that he and his foundation, “Everything Starts With 1,” are doing to teach young people about the scourge of bullying, and to teach educators of all kinds to respond effectively to that behavior. Mr. Long challenged all of us to be “upstanders” rather than “bystanders”– to use our voices to combat bullying wherever we encounter it, and to intervene rather than let our friends be victims of bullying.
Our campers responded deeply with his emotional presentation, asking questions about how they each can combat this behavior, sharing experiences of what it feels like to be the object of bullying, and beginning to imagine what it might look like to act against bullying back home. I was so proud of our Olim Fellows, our staff, and our faculty as they guided us through break-out discussions after these sessions to check in with how the kids had responded to the sessions; it was clear that although most kids had experienced some form of anti-bullying programming in their schools, this day felt different somehow– more personal because of David Long’s presentation, more real because of the incredible experience the Olim Fellows created for us all, more attainable because of the chance to put what we were learning immediately into action at Eisner Camp.
As Shabbat approached, we came together for Kabbalat Shabbat as a camp, to sing songs greeting Shabbat, and to reflect on the lessons we learned in this incredible day. Each camper had written on an index card a behavior that they weren’t proud of– some way in which they had excluded someone; something they had done with regards to bullying they wished they had done differently. We took those cards and burned them in a bonfire, affirming that we can let go of old patterns of behavior. We can change, we can begin that process here at camp and continue it back home. So, too, each camper had written an oath on a piece of ribbon. Each camper wrote their own oath about what they would commit to do going forward. They each made a promise about how they would combat bullying everywhere they encountered it. Those oaths were tied to the edges of a permanent sukkah that our art and maintenance staff had created. Each of us then walked through that sukkah– a shelter of peace, as we made our way back to the Beit Tefillah for Erev Shabbat services lead beautifully by Bonim, our 4th and 5th grade campers.
Today was an extraordinary day at Eisner Camp, because we each resolved to push that bubble out– expand that sukkah of peace, that we might make the world better and safer because we’re in it.
There was recently an article about how camps can help kids unplug from their everyday lives. We read it (online, of course!) while noting the irony that so many of our camps are “electronics free” but we – the directors, assistant directors, and other senior staff members – cringe at the thought of being off-line for even an hour during the summer. While we tout the importance of campers unplugging, we start to sweat the moment our e-mail goes down.
When did this happen? When did technology take over our camps? When did a handwritten list handed to a staff member make us appear out-of-date or disorganized? When did a photographer with a digital camera and Bunk1 access become a necessary position? We are in our late 30s and early 40s; while we are fairly computer savvy, we are still very much able to play the “I am older than cell phones” card with our staff. We remember calling home from a payphone and our parents exclaiming that we sounded “just like we’re next door!”
Don’t get us wrong – we aren’t scared of change; there are both good and bad things that come from more technology. We’re just confused. We recall a time, not so long ago, when camps were in their own bubbles. The “outside world” had little effect on our campers’ lives. Now, within five minutes of the recent Supreme Court decision on DOMA, we were celebrating and sharing the information with our campers and staff. And when a camper asked the details of how the Court voted, we didn’t hesitate to run to the internet to get him the information. And it’s not only about the outside world – it’s also about our camper families. We answer parents (including our own) about when photos will be up, what we’re eating for lunch, and why a child doesn’t appear to be wearing sunscreen. We e-mail parents en masse to keep them updated and we post to Facebook regularly (including from our cell phones when the power goes out!).
On the other hand, we expect that our campers will have no access to any of this technology. We require that all approved electronics are in airplane mode – and we are envious of those camps that have a “no screens” policy. But, at the same time, we wonder if sneaking in an iPad or liking a post on Facebook from a cabin a few steps from the office is really a punishable offense. How can we expect our campers to stop texting, updating, and chatting “cold turkey,” when they submit papers, complete college applications, and talk to their friends online the other eleven months of the year? And how can we, who pride ourselves on building and sustaining community, tell first year staff that they can’t be Facebook friends with kids one year younger than them who – just three days earlier – had been their best friend?
We used to say that we wouldn’t ask our staff or campers to do anything we wouldn’t do or haven’t done for ourselves. We are always happy to jump in to run a program, stay up late, wash dishes, or plunge a toilet. But ask us to give up our internet and we’re not sure we can agree. How could we know what’s going on in our world? How could we stay in touch with our families? How could we write blog posts like this? Hmmm – this has us stumped. Maybe we should check Google for some advice….
This summer my plan is to start writing a book with the working title God Laughs: How Judaism Ruined My Life. I recently received a grant to proceed with the project, but the idea is still a little vague as is my plan for its eventual execution. I like the title though – taken from the famous Yiddish proverb, “Man plans and God laughs” – and I especially like the subtitle, though I can see it getting me into trouble down the road. Also, in thinking about what to write, I keep coming back to a recurring theme in my life or, as I prefer to call it, a running gag – my ambivalence about being Jewish.
A quality, incidentally, I do not share with my 14-year-old son, Jonah. This probably shouldn’t be surprising. Jonah has autism and ambivalence is not really something he’s wired for. He lives in a predominantly black-and-white world and is inclined to take things literally. And while, lately, he’s become more interested in complicated, existential issues like what happens to us after we die and why does time only move forward, I couldn’t even guess if he believes in God in the conventional sense. Then again, I doubt he’s plagued by doubts about how Jewish he is or feels. He’s Jewish, mainly because his mother and I told him so. A reason, let’s face it, that has been good enough for countless generations of Jews before both of us.
Still, I’ve never seen Jonah quite so focused as when he’s following along with the reading from the Haggadah at family Seders. Or, last year, when he just about flawlessly delivered the long, difficult Hebrew passages in his bar mitzvah portion. Jonah has also participated in the Friendship Circle since he was a kid. Friendship Circle is a branch of the Chabad movement, with chapters across North America as well as in countries like Australia, France, England, South Africa and Israel. Its mission is to provide friendship and foster acceptance for kids with special needs by matching them up with volunteer teenagers. (It also fosters much-needed respite for the parents of kids with special needs.) Jonah is right at home whenever he shows up at the Friendship Circle for an event or a simple get-together. In June, he participated in the Montreal chapter’s annual and rather extravagant fundraiser. It was a talent show this year and Jonah was one of the featured acts. He was a hit singing and playing “Hey Jude” on his guitar. I’m guessing the Friendship Circle organizers aren’t big Beatles fans but I hope they noticed that the lyrics he sang perfectly summed up what their organization is so open-heartedly dedicated to doing. Simply put, to “take a sad song and make it better.”
The B’nai Brith sleep-away camp Jonah attended last year and will go to again this year is obliged to have a more ecumenical approach than the Friendship Circle as it has to cater to a wide spectrum of Jewish beliefs. It’s not specifically orthodox or reform or conservative. This is one of the issues that can be tricky to deal with, the camp director Josh Pepin admitted to me recently. He and his staff will have to weigh how much religious instruction is too much; and how much is too little. Whatever they decide on I suspect Jonah will greet it with his unique brand of matter-of-fact spirituality, one I often find myself envying. He will enthusiastically participate in Friday Shabbat dinners and Saturday morning services. When the Israeli flag is raised he will sing the Hatikvah loud as he can. He will spend his summer living Jewishly. “Jewish identity is paramount at our camp,” Pepin told me. “Our job is to create Jews.” With Jonah, they already have one. With me too, for that matter, though I’ll spend this summer – as I’ve spent most of my life – wondering what being a Jew means to me. I’ll also probably have to figure out a way to explain my book’s subtitle to whoever I end up telling about my book. I’ll have to point out that when I say Judaism ruined my life, I’m just joking. Well, half-joking anyway.
This month, my husband and co-director, Gilad, and I are grateful for our wonderful camp kehillah (community) and for life and health. Two weeks ago, the Black Forest Fire in Colorado necessitated that we evacuate the JCC Ranch Camp just 3.5 days into our first session of the camp season. I’m happy to report that not only did all of our 140 campers and 80+ staff make it off site without incident, so did our 37 horses, 5 chickens, 3 cats, 2 goats, 8 dogs, and 2 cows.
Faced with this urgent situation and subsequent logistical challenge as we were, Gilad and I had a unique opportunity to assess what really matters to us in our life together. I can tell you without a doubt that what we concluded is that what really matters are the people and animals that we share our life with and not our material possessions. For the past six years, we have chosen to live at Ranch Camp year-round; camp is literally our home. When faced with losing everything we own in the Black Forest Fire, I can honestly say that when I had a few moments to decide what to take with us upon evacuation, it did not take me long because I knew in my heart what was really important to me – and it was not much. I am happy to have gone through this experience because it afforded me a rare opportunity for self-reflection and renewed perspective, which has been both extremely gratifying and refreshing.
I’m grateful to report that not only did our camp site remain safe and untouched by the fires, but we were able to welcome campers back to camp the morning of June 17th to resume our camp session! We feel so blessed to be a part of a wonderful and supportive camp community and appreciate the outpouring of love and good wishes since our evacuation. I hope that we will not have to go through this again but I feel quite confident now that whatever might befall us in the future, we will come through it successfully and be stronger for it.
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 was nine years old my first summer at camp. When I came home, my mother (who had never been a camper herself) unzipped my duffel bag and was shocked — everything was wet, smelly, covered with sand, and starting to turn a little green. The next summer, as we packed for what I knew would be the best three weeks of the year, she sat me down and told me that I should remember three things while I was away: have fun, don’t do anything stupid, and, most importantly, don’t mix wet with dry. When I went to college, she put a note in my bag telling me how proud she was of me and reminding me of these same three rules. For my family, these have become shorthand for how to take care of yourself.
Over the past few weeks, there have been blog posts sprouting up about preparing for camp. Certainly there are clothes to buy, envelopes to address, bags to pack. In the midst of all these logistics, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important — preparing your kids for an experience of growth and self-exploration. As a camp director, it’s my job to provide an environment for your kids to thrive and grow; as parents, it’s your job to give them the grounding they need to make this possible. So, here are some things I’ve learned from parents (and campers) along the way that may help you take a break from packing to get your kids really ready for camp…
Don’t forget family traditions! One Friday afternoon, I was running around camp getting ready for Shabbat. I walked through the office and saw a fax coming off the machine for one of our teen campers. I looked over and was perplexed: on the piece of paper were images of two hands. At dinner that night, I handed the paper to the camper and her eyes lit up. “They are my dad’s hands,” she said, as she turned the paper over and put it on her head. “He blesses me every week for Shabbat, and since we’re not together, this is how he can do it.” As the weeks of that summer and many others followed, I always knew that the fax machine would ring just before Shabbat or the FedEx would arrive on Friday morning. And I knew that, even though they were in different places, this father would always bless his daughter for Shabbat.
Kids love being away at camp, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be connected to what’s going on at home. If you bless your child on Friday night, send her the blessing in a note every week. If you read your child a poem every night before he falls asleep, send it on a card for him to post next to his bed. Showing kids that they can be independent but also deeply connected to you is one of the most important parts of sending them away.
Don’t forget to ask for help! A friend sent her oldest child to camp a few years ago with an instruction: when they take your picture for the website, put a thumbs up if you’re doing okay and if something is wrong, leave your hands at your side. This was their way of ensuring that, if something was wrong, the mother would know to call camp to check it out.
On one hand, I love this: a secret code between parent and child that allows them to communicate “in real time” over the summer when we don’t allow phone calls, emails, or texts. On the other hand, I hope that parents will also tell their children: if you’re having a hard time, make sure you to talk to a friend or a counselor. If that person isn’t able to help you feel better, go talk to a group leader or head counselor. (Think of it kind of like asking to speak with a manager when you don’t get the answer you want from customer service.) And if that doesn’t work — go straight to the top. I know that every camp is set up differently and that camp directors are busy people. But I, for one, want to know if a kid is having a tough time so that we can work together to make things better; as camp professionals, we live for these moments when we can help kids overcome challenges.
It’s good that this mother and son had a way to ensure that both had peace of mind during his first summer away. But it’s also important to teach your kid that sometimes she needs to speak up for herself when she’s unhappy. It’s important for kids to know that there are adults, in addition to their parents, they can trust. Camp is a safe place to try this out.
Don’t forget who you are! Camps are fond of saying that they help children to build character. At Camp JRF, we help campers (and staff) understand that they aren’t building who they are — they just need to be who they already are, being sure to live their values and ideals in all they do. Our staff has heard me tell this story many times: I walked by two 12-year-old boys, one of whom was with us for the first time and had, apparently, just made fun of another camper. The other boy, who was with us for his second summer, looked at him and said: “that’s not how we act here.” This boy took pride in our camp culture, but he also took pride in his role as a friend, an ally, and a member of the community.
Before they leave for camp, talk with your kids about values. Remind them of their deepest held values. Discuss what it means to stand up for someone else. Let them know how proud you are of them for remembering to be their best selves, even in moments where it’s challenging.
So as you finish those last minute preparations for this summer, take a moment to remind your kids of who they are as individuals and as part of your family. Remind them of the blessings you share with them, let them know that it’s okay (even more than okay!) to ask for help, and give them the power to stand up for others.
Oh yeah — and don’t forget to tell them not to mix wet with dry.
This is the last in a series of four blog entries called “Why Camp?”
Part 4: Spirituality and Positive Jewish Experience at Camp Tawonga
Summer camp is the ideal environment for positive Jewish engagement because it is the place children experience what sociologist Emile Durkheim coined, “collective effervescence.” This is the uniquely powerful shared group phenomenon in which a certain “electricity” is generated that transports the participants to a higher level of spirituality. It happens when campers stand with their arms around each other watching the sunset. It happens when children’s voices are joined in joyous song. It happens when a touching story is shared around the campfire.
Such experiences require the confluence of three elements, all of which camp provides: immersion in an intentional community; removal from the mundane distractions of home; and the absence of inhibiting factors like parents, school mates etc. This combination enables enduring positive associations with whatever ritual behaviors are incorporated, thus making the camp director’s content choices extremely important. These choices are driven by the underlying mission of each camp.
At Tawonga, our mission is to create positive associations with Judaism and the global Jewish family. This goal is primarily about FEELINGS, so our choices in program, staffing and liturgy are always made with their affective value in mind. Although we hope children also pick up some knowledge of our custom and culture, our priority is to build emotional ties. There is a tradition amongst Hasidic Jews to give children a taste of honey when they start to read Hebrew so that they associate Torah with sweetness. In a parallel way, Tawonga aspires to be the experiential equivalent of that honey.
In our first blog post for The Canteen, we wrote about the first goal of Tawonga’s mission: building children’s sense of self-worth, pride and confidence. This works synchronously with our spiritual goal because a key component of self-esteem is knowing one’s own heritage. When these goals are pursued by staff who fully embrace the mission, children return from their time at camp with a new sense of personal identity, group belonging, and connectedness to their people, their history, and to the greater global community.
1. Get Outside and Get Moving. Make sure your camper increases their physical activity prior to camp so that they feel ready to be active all day long. If your child is going to be participating in trip camps this summer, be sure to start wearing new hiking boots whenever possible to break them in and avoid blisters on the trail. For those campers who love Maccabiah (Color War) and Capture the Flag, getting in shape now will pay off during friendly camp competitions as well.
2. Read the Parent Manual. Getting ready for camp should be a family affair, so be sure to include campers when reviewing the camp Parent Manual. This is a great resource to help mentally prepare yourself and your child for what’s in store at camp, including how you will be communicating with one another and what a typical day at camp will look like.
3. Get Psyched, Set Goals. Help your child think about the activities they are most excited to try, try again, and/or learn more about. This discussion will help your camper anticipate all the fun that they will be having at camp and also help them establish some goals that they have for themselves this summer.
4. Keep an Open Mind. Be sure to prepare yourself and your child for the best summer possible by managing expectations and keeping an open mind about the new experiences your camper will have in nature, trying new activities, eating new foods, making new friends, and experiencing Judaism in new ways.
5. Brisket and Babka. Shabbat is a special time of week at camp. Pack a nice outfit for Friday evening and get excited for a beautiful community experience involving fun services, an amazing dinner, dancing and song sessions.
6. Packing Party. Pull out your child’s duffle bag or trunk, clean out their closet, and start picking out clothes to take to camp. Make sure not to bring anything that you or your child would be upset about losing or damaging. Don’t forget to pack different color shirts for Maccabiah (Color War), a white item to tie dye, pre-addressed envelopes to home or other family members, a couple of water bottles, lots of sunscreen, and a flashlight!
7. Plan Pre-Camp Overnights. This is especially important for younger children! Have your kids do pre-camp sleepovers with grandparents and friends to help get them used to sleeping in different settings. Lots of positive encouragement and follow-up praise is helpful in building confidence leading up to camp.
8. Practice Life Skills. Start to encourage your child to make their own bed, fold their own laundry, and just do more in general for themselves. At camp, staff are always there to lend a helping hand but campers are expected to know how to and actually perform many life skills on their own. Now is the perfect time to help your child establish a certain level of independence before departing for camp.
9. Backyard Campout. As a way to get excited for life in the great outdoors and also to help your camper feel comfortable with a possible campout during their camping session, pitch a tent in your backyard on a warm night and have your very own backyard campout! It will make everyone appreciate your comfy bed inside a bit more and is also a fun family bonding experience.
10. Camp Connection. Have questions, concerns, or feedback about camp? Be sure to be in touch with the camp administration staff so that they can help you feel prepared and heard. We are here to serve our families, so make sure to provide us with all the information you can about your camper and their needs by way of forms, phone calls, and emails so that we can prepare to provide your camper with the best summer possible.
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…
It’s hard to believe that we’re now less than 50 days away from the start of another summer! Many campers have been counting down the days with excitement since they returned home from camp last year. “OMG I get to be a CIT this year!!” is one example of a recent Facebook post. And, to be honest, there were many more exclamation points than that.
Indeed, Facebook and other virtual spaces are used more and more by kids, parents, and alumni to connect with one another and build Jewish community. But camp works in part because it gives kids opportunities to feel connected to something larger than themselves. This connection can happen, and increasingly does happen, for more than a few weeks each year.
We recently posted something on our Facebook page that asked folks to complete the following sentence: “Camp Alonim is where I _____.” The range of responses was extraordinary, as was the range of respondents – campers, staff, parents, and alumni. Here is what some of them said: Camp Alonim is where… “I found out what makes me Jewish.” “I started my first band.” “I learned to love Shabbat.” “I feel safe leaving my kids.” “I met my first boyfriend.” “I cowgirl up!” “I developed my Jewish identity and danced!” “I want to be right now.” “I am home.”
Because a picture can be worth a thousand words, we also recently ran a photo contest during which folks shared all sorts of images on our Facebook page that they felt best represented camp. Sprinkled throughout this blog post are some of the pictures that were submitted.
At this point, you might be asking yourself: why all this talk about Facebook when camp is about unplugging from electronics and getting away from the always-on world in which we live? I think the answer is best illustrated by the following story. A few days ago, Jamie, who was one of our teen program advisors last summer and who currently is studying abroad in Israel, posted on Facebook that she just “casually ran into her children” at the Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv. The “children” to whom Jamie was referring are her former campers (by the way, don’t you love how staff refer to the campers as “their kids”?). Jamie shared a surprise reunion with some of her teens, which generated “likes” and “comments” from campers, staff, parents, and her other “children.” This chance encounter in Israel involved generations of camp, and the connection and reconnection extended further than it ever could before.
The connection has to start somewhere. For many kids, camp can be the first link in a lifelong connection to deep, meaningful friendships and active communities infused with the joys of Jewish living. Much of my job as a camp director is to help that first connection form, and then to help incubate all sorts of budding connections so that they can grow and thrive for a lifetime.
As I write this, staff members are being hired to “give back to camp;” parents are searching for white Shabbat clothing; alumni are reuniting with camp friends to celebrate life’s simchas and to support one another when life throws its curve-balls; and new and returning campers are counting down the days until summer. It’s community. It’s connection. It’s camp! And, when it comes to camp, there’s no such thing as too many exclamation points.