Tag Archives: Camp staff

Camp All Day, Every Day

colemanA cookie is just a cookie, but a Newton is fruit and cake.

A camp is just a camp, but MY CAMP IS THE BEST THING EVER.

It doesn’t have the same ring, but you get the idea.

[Colemanites] get together during the year.  The Clergy Advisory Board gathers to talk education and development.  The Olim Fellows meet to learn about social justice, Reform Judaism, and to explore other camps in the URJ family.  Cornerstone Fellows gather to learn how to make great programming even better with camps from all over North America, and brainstorming how to impact their work at Coleman when gathering in “Camproom.”  Retreats.  NFTY.  Facebook.  Instagram.  Camp Shabbat.  Bar/Bat Mitzvah weekends.  Shabbat dinners.  The emails – so many emails.

[Coleman] people find time to see [Coleman] people.

At the end of February, a collection of Coleman people met in Atlanta for two days.  This form of Coleman reunion was targeted and focused.  Like last year’s MasheJew meeting, we were developing curriculum.  This year, we did some editing of the units from last year, and added in two more units.  We also did a series of Tefillah workshops that could fill an entire summer of Kavannah (our name for our counselor- and programmer-led programming), come from my work at camp and at The Davis Academy (#NADIV) and will be one of my sessions when I serve on Cornerstone Faculty in May.   We’re working on developing a program called “Hot ShoTz” (ShoTz is the abbreviation in Hebrew used to describe a service leader) which will teach people in our camp community leadership skills and service-leading methodology, allowing them to step up, and to shine in a new light.

It was a long 25 hours, Shabbat-long in length, but stuffed with beautiful, holy work. Faculty clergy, programmers, unit heads, our Rosh Mishlachat (Head of the Israeli Delegation), one of camp’s specialist coordinators, and year-round staff collaborated on all-camp programming, on Tefillah, and on unit specific work.

We’re not done with the work.  There will be more emails.  There will be teaching and learning and a summer of experimenting with new, exciting programming.  And I’m thankful to know that there are so many people who are working toward another amazing summer of programming.  This is the good that comes from thinking about camp all day, every day.

And if you want to be a Hot ShoTz, Coleman staff, you know where to find me.

Where [Coleman/ite] = [Your Camp’s Name/people]

Posted on April 8, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Childhood Friendship That Set My Life’s Course

This post is part of our series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

Copy of 110707.CampJRF.-114Everyone has a passion and a calling. Some people find this when they are in college; others not until they have retired from a career that they enjoyed (but didn’t love).

For me, it was in third grade.

I was in the bathroom and there was screaming that was not really words, but utterances, from behind another stall door. I could hear crying and knew something was not going well. I asked if someone needed help and there was just banging on the door. I was (and still am) a short person, so I crawled under the stall … and there was Sylvia.

Sylvia was in the self-contained special education classroom in my elementary school. In 1978, this was the way schools were set up and mainstream kids like me had very little interaction with kids in the self-contained classes. Sylvia was what we now would refer to as moderately developmentally delayed; she had some verbal skills but no real connections and no ability to make a sentence. There she was … just standing there … all ready to get out of the bathroom stall, but she had accidentally locked herself in. I unlocked it. We went to wash our hands and then it dawned on me that I should walk her back to her classroom to let the teacher know what had happened, since she was so distressed just moments earlier. I walked her to the classroom, told the teacher what happened and went to leave. As I did, Sylvia ran up and hugged me. I felt great about what had happened and moved on with my day.

Later that week, we were on the playground at recess and this boy, Marcus, came up and hugged me and told me that I was his friend now since I was Sylvia’s friend. Marcus was nearly six feet tall in fifth grade and also had developmental challenges, but he was able to communicate more effectively than Sylvia. Marcus just hugged me … every single day on the playground for that entire year. And every single day on the playground the year after, until he graduated and went to the junior high.

Maybe it was because I have some connection with people who want to be understood, maybe it was because I love to communicate with people in any way and felt like Sylvia must really need someone to help her to communicate, maybe it was because I liked it when I felt important by helping another person. Whatever the reason, there it was … my love for people with learning challenges and developmental differences. As clear as day, in third grade.

I continued this path as I grew older: I volunteered for kids with special needs in my town, befriended the kids in camp that no one else really wanted to hang out with, and even got a scholarship in senior year of high school for pursuing a career in special education. I went off to college and thought I would be a teacher, but once there decided that social work was more my style. All through college I coached five different sports in the Special Olympics (where one athlete asked me if I knew that, even though I did not have special needs, I was the worst player on our basketball team … and I was the coach), was head of the Students for Special Needs program, and did other volunteer work. I found an AMAZING Jewish camp to work at for children who had challenges, and found a mentor there that was inspiring. Ten years later, when he left, I got his job running the camp and continued to do so for about a decade. Now I am blessed to be working in another camp that is all about inclusion, and special needs inclusion is one part of this.

I would guess that I have worked with over a thousand young people and adults with special needs – all types of special needs – in a camping setting and I must tell you that it NEVER once dawned on me that this was a big deal. I mean, my sister loved to work with clothing and went into fashion, my brother loved to make deals and became an attorney, and I loved to help people so I went into social work with a focus on special needs. I know this will sound cliché, but I learn more from someone with challenges than they will ever learn from me. I get to be there for a family when they think no one is going to “get them” and their situation. I learn about acceptance of people’s strengths and weaknesses and that it is ok to have both. I gain an appreciation for things that are going well and a tolerance for things when they are not.

I know one thing for sure: no matter what I do for my entire career, the most important thing I ever did was crawl under a bathroom stall and unlock a door for my friend Sylvia.

 

Posted on February 25, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

5 Reasons Parents Should Send Their Children With Disabilities to Jewish Camp

Copy of WelcomeThis post is part of our series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

I must confess. When I first started working as a counselor in the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England in 1984, I couldn’t understand how parents of children with disabilities could send their children away for eight weeks each summer. Now, after working in the field of disabilities camping for more than 20 years, I have a hard time understanding why parents of children with disabilities won’t seriously consider sending their children to an overnight Jewish summer camp. Of course I understand that it is scary, often far from home, and that the sessions feel “long.” I understand that children with disabilities often can’t effectively communicate their needs, or advocate for themselves. And I understand just how hard it is for parents to be out of contact for a month or two. So why do it? Here are 5 reasons.

1. Camp offers fun, stimulating activities: Simply put, thousands of Jewish children go to camp each summer—and they have a great time. There is no way any parent can offer that level of programming and stimulation in their backyard or apartment. Camping offers children daily doses of the arts, sports, dance, singing, and swimming—not to mention exposure to such electives as nature, cooking, drama (plays in Hebrew!), sailing, woodworking, the climbing wall and more—all before lunch!

2. Camp offers friends and role modeling: If the camp program is part of a larger camp, your child will spend hours a day interacting with a diverse group of children of all ages—both neurotypical and campers with disabilities. What better way to practice and improve social interaction, speech and language skills and more! Camp is a 24/7 social environment with chances to try out various social behaviors—and receive instant feedback. Through these interactions, campers are scaffolded and grow in so many ways.

3. Camp is an all-encompassing Jewish living environment: Campers sing Jewish songs, dance Jewish dances, experience Shabbat, pray through song and movement and interact with a diverse group of Israelis. And Jewish values are alive in Jewish summer camps! Families return to their local synagogues asking if they can incorporate these elements in to their worship services and programming. And campers and staff members return home with understanding and sensitivity toward people with disabilities. And they are life-long ambassadors!

4. Camp is the next step toward independence: Separating is never easy for children and parents.  But children almost always adjust to the camp routine quickly. Campers learn to make their beds, keep their shelves neat, sweep, clean the bathroom, and more. They learn to become even more independent with skills of daily living. And they often try lots of new foods in the dining room—simply because they are on the table! Parents are often amazed with what their children can do when they return from camp.The biggest post camp challenge for parents? Continuing to foster this new found independence!

5. Camp is well-deserved and needed respite for parents! One thing I did not understand that first summer as a teenage counselor was that parents work very hard. Parenting a child with a disability is not easy.  Parents need and deserve a chance to be together as a couple—to sip wine, to go to the beach, or even go to Europe! And they absolutely deserve and need a chance to spend time with their neuroptypical children who also need time and attention.

As we mark Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month in February, we note that camp starts in four months! Space is filling up fast at Jewish camps all across the country. Decide today to reach out to a camp director and begin a conversation about the possibility of your child attending camp. They and you will grow a great deal from the experience!

Find available Jewish camp options for children with disabilities here.

Posted on February 13, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Jewish Disability Awareness Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), which brings a topic that is very important to us at the Foundation for Jewish Camp to the forefront of conversations all over the Jewish community.  JDAM is “a unified initiative to raise awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish communities worldwide.”  To further the effort, we are running a series dedicated to discussing disabilities at Jewish camp this month.

Kicking off the series is a round-up of some of the most powerful posts by Joel Yanofsky, one of our resident bloggers and father to Jonah, a great teenager and camper on the autism spectrum.

The Plain Old Normal

Saying Yes

It Takes a Village, Like it or Not

Camp Turned My Son Into a Teenager

October Blues

The Truth About Pink

Stay tuned for posts by camp directors, experts in the field, former campers, and more.

Like this post? Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.

Posted on February 6, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Coming Out and Coming Home to My Jewish Sleepaway Camp

d furman 4

I first thought that I might be different when I was in sixth grade.

I went to Jewish day school, and I was horribly bullied for being different. My reaction was to revel in the negative attention, to try to act like I liked it. It was the only way I knew to fit in. My only friends were two girls. And by friends, I mean they were willing to hang out with me at school, and we talked on the phone a couple times.  Not a couple times a week – a couple of times. One day at school, these girls asked me who my crush was, but I had never really thought about it before. When I started to think about it, I realized it was Danny. I was confused, so I just stuffed it down and lied to make it easier. I said it was one of them.

Years later when I was seventeen, I was searching for something to connect to, a place to feel comfortable. A friend in USY convinced me to work at Camp Solomon Schechter for the summer. I was hesitant, but I figured, why not? At Jewish camp, I found the home I had been searching for, the acceptance I had been longing  for. People loved me, no matter what. In the worst of times, Schechter was my refuge. I would always look forward to summer, for moments of serenity and happiness. I have worked at camp every summer since, and as of four years ago, I work there full time—my dream job.

Let me introduce myself. My name is David Furman, and I am the Assistant Director of Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia, Washington. And I am gay. I came out one month ago at twenty-nine years old. And I came out on Facebook, so the whole world would know. (I didn’t tell a single person before I posted it on Facebook. Scary!)

So why now? And why Facebook?

I came to grips with the fact that I was gay (fully gay, not bisexual, although I so wanted to be) in college, yet I stayed in the closet for seven more years. Why? Partially fear, that many of the people in the Orthodox community I associated with in college would shun me. But also, it just didn’t seem like it mattered to come out or not.

Then this summer, there were multiple occasions in which I almost revealed my true self. I held back both in private conversations and once in front of the whole camp when I heard one kid call another kid gay. I know how much that hurts. I wanted to reach out and say, “Stand up and say that to me. Call me gay. Because I am gay.”

Then in December, something happened that solidified my decision. One of my staff members (who is just 18), posted on Facebook that he was in a relationship with a dude. My emotions went crazy!  How am I so scared to come out and be brave if this 18-year-old kid can come out? How can he have a relationship when I can’t? And really, how much easier would it have been for HIM if I was out all of these years, so he knew he had someone he could talk to? How can I consider myself a role model to campers and staff if I’m not honest and public about who I am? Not out to my friends, not out to my family, but out to the community. The Pacific Northwest Jewish community is small, and I knew if I came out on Facebook, everyone would know. The one caveat I should mention, is who I accept as friends on Facebook; I will only friend campers after they have “graduated” our Counselor-in-Training program and are no longer campers. However, with Facebook you can set restrictions on your posts: to just your friends, friends of friends, or public—i.e. to the world. I chose public. I wanted young people from my camp, who were struggling with the issues I struggled with for nearly 30 years, to be able to see that there is hope.

And the response I got blew my mind. Over 350 people liked my status. Over 70 comments. I got dozens of Facebook messages and texts, all supportive. It told me that nothing had changed. And as the comments kept pouring in, I was grinning.

I feel happier, I feel freer, I don’t find myself thinking through everything I say with the “will that make me sound gay” litmus test. I feel like I can honestly share everything that is me. I still have the same great friends and the same great family. I still have the same great job. I’m just me.

And so now I can say it. IT GETS BETTER.

What will I say to those kids who are feeling like I did, who feel like they have to hide who they are, who think maybe it’s just not worth it? I would say: be strong. Life can seriously get you down sometimes. You will run across people that make you feel like crap. But for every dip, there is a peak. Gam zeh ya’vor. This, too, shall pass. Life can be so good. You just have to have faith in yourself, and surround yourself with good people. There are lots more good people out there than people who will judge you or care who you are. And remember, if they don’t like you because you’re gay, dump ‘em.  Optimism is so hard sometimes, but I can tell you the world is on an upward spiral.  It does get better. I mean, we can get married! The tide is moving forward.

It does get better. Check out the It Gets Better Project for some inspiration.

I also want to say again how lucky I am to work for Schechter. All I have gotten from my community is love, support and respect.

And I hope to pass it on ten-fold. I want Schechter to be a place where everyone feels comfortable to be whoever they are, openly and honestly, and I hope that my coming out might play some part in changing kids’ minds about what’s acceptable to say. Or maybe just give one camper hope.

If you are one of those kids or counselors reading this, please contact me, I am always available.

Like this post? Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.

Posted on January 21, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Falling in Love with Myself

0243_130813-FJC_x_xHe was bubbling over with excitement. He had heard so much about this place. This was his first time away from home. And somehow he knew that his life was going to be different after coming here. While he knew that he was going to miss his family, he was excited to make new friends, and yes he was excited to possibly meet a special someone. As they arrived he could not stay in his seat.

I am sure that this story rings true for you if you remember going to camp for the first time. All of the excitement, all of those expectations of what that summer has in store. As the bus lurched forward you felt yourself opening up to the people on the bus. You were hardly able to sit in your seat as the bus pulled off the main road and you saw that first sign for your camp. You had never been there before, but as you pulled in you knew that you were home.

While this is my story of going to camp for the first time, this definitely echoes what I heard from my eldest son after his first summer at camp, or at least what I got out of him. Similarly, the story of Rebecca that we read in last week’s Torah portion says:

Then Rebecca and her maids got ready and mounted their camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebecca and left. Now Isaac had come from Be’er Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she fell off the camel. (Genesis 24:61- 64)

Rebecca was that first happy camper coming “home.” She fell in love at first sight. Just as I fell in love as a camper. It was not with a person – those crushes and relationships came and went. It was not with that place, even though it will endure in my memory as a place filled with kiddusha, holiness. I fell in love with who I was at camp.

Many years ago my camp supervisor mailed me the following story:

Once there was a Rebbe who had a Yeshiva. His son studied in the Yeshiva. One day the son took off the afternoon to go walking in the forest. The father said nothing. But over time the son took to taking off every afternoon to walk in the forest. At this point the father realized that he needed to confront his son. The Rebbe said to his son, “I hear that you are walking in the forest every afternoon. Why are you doing this?” The son replied that he was looking for God. The Rebbe was puzzled and asked, “Did I not teach you that God is the same everywhere?” The son replied, “Abba, I know that God is the same everywhere, but I am not.”

When and where in my life was I more open to being all of whom I aspired to become? It was when I got off that bus for the first time, and it was at camp.

While I love the place and I love that time in my life, I realize that I owe a lot to my counselors. More than what I saw in them as role models, it was what my role models saw in me when I tumbled off that bus. They shared with me a glimpse of the person that I am still working on becoming. And that is why I fell in love with camp.

Posted on October 24, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Social Media Isn’t the Enemy

0030_138014-FJC_x_xNow that your kids are home from camp, many of you are facing a new dilemma: should campers and their summer camp counselors be allowed to be friends on Facebook?

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.

Posted on September 10, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Home From Camp & Back to School

Camp_0030Camp ended.

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.

Posted on August 30, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Walking the Walk: On Welcoming a Transgender Bunk Counselor

Amit Schwalb GanThis 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.

naalehAmit 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.

Posted on August 26, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Day School and Camp Program Goals

Several weeks ago, as we were gearing up for camp, I was sitting and having a lot of conversations with people.  Our primary concerns were health, safety and security, of course, as we want to welcome your children into the safest and most open arms we can provide!  Once we provided for basic needs, everyone rallied around the project of setting up the whole camp program, from learning icebreaker games to setting up a trip calendar for every unit to learn out of camp, and getting ready to plan Maccabiah (color war/Olympics/etc).

Just as we have essential curriculum and progression in school, including my beloved day school, The Davis Academy, so too do we set curriculum that goes through a child’s years in camp.  In the Programming Castle (because we like to nickname buildings, people, activities, and things at camp), each unit’s dedicated programmer crafts a schedule filled with programs addressing their unit’s enduring understandings and essential questions.  “Why does being Jewish matter?” they ask our oldest campers.  “We are all a part of K’lal Yisrael/the people of Israel” responds a younger unit.  This framework allows for structure fun sessions, as well as a healthy mindset for working, living, learning and enjoying our experiential Jewish summer home.

The following email, edited slightly from its original version, shows the bridging of the two kinds of educational venues, two totally different settings, and two totally identical program goals, addressing the important question of “how do we build a Jewish community together?”

Dear Community Rabbi,

I hope this email finds you well.

We’re gearing up for camp and one of our Programmers is preparing a program about setting a new place, and deciding how to establish the Jewish community.  I’ve included the programmer on this email so you two can connect.

The program idea reminds me very much of the program you did with the 5th graders at our day school before they went on their trip to Savannah, GA!  I was hoping that you two would be able to touch base about this program while you’re at camp for the first week and a half.

Looking forward to seeing you at day school graduation.

All the best,
Your Friendly, Neighborhood Nadiv Educator

Posted on July 29, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy