My Journey Back to Jewish Summer Camp

All of the major signposts of my life are linked to my attending Jewish residential camp at Camp Ramah, in Ojai, California. My career working with individuals with disabilities started at Ramah. Ramah is where I met my dearest friends. Ramah friends introduced me to my husband, so it was fitting that two years later we were married there.

Each summer I returned to camp – the one place I felt comfortable to be myself. As I grew older, serving as a counselor for campers with disabilities spurred my passion for supporting people swept aside in their school and local community. For five years, through college and beyond, I worked with these children and adults to help them find joy in camp just as I had.

When a marginalized person first feels a part of a community, it changes their life forever, opening them to a world of possibility. I loved watching their friendships grow, and each new unfolding chapter of their growth taught me the value of bringing all of the parts of our community together.

I earned a Master’s degree in psychology, and began working with people with disabilities outside of camp, for a local school district. But I was massively unhappy. Even though I was working hard, I spent too much time with lawyers and administrators fighting over how many hours of services a child needed. My job was focused on meeting quantifiable behavioral goals, not helping people have fun and grow.

I yearned for camp again. Late one night, I saw a job posting for the position of Inclusion Coordinator at Camp JCA Shalom, and I applied for the job immediately. But it had been nine years since I attended residential Jewish summer camp. In that time, I had moved home to Los Angeles, started a career, fell in love, and got married. How was this going to work out?

My husband knew how important camp was to my life. He encouraged me to take the job even though it would mean us spending a lot of time separated over the summer.

Last summer at camp was hard work, but it felt like a homecoming of sorts. I was able to work with a group of people that fully supported including individuals with disabilities, whether they were campers or counselors. There were fires to put out and behavior plans to implement, but helping people experience the magic of camp again made confronting every challenge worth it.

Posted on February 8, 2016

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