The Canteen is a tribute to all things Jewish sleepaway camp. Hosted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), this blog is written by campers, alumni, parents, and camp professionals and is a place to talk about parenting, camp fun, projects, crafts, recipes, and more – all tied back to Jewish holidays, traditions and, of course, camp!
Stefan Teodosic is the Executive Director of B’nai B’rith Beber Camp and the Perlman Conference Center in Mukwonago, Wisconsin.
Teodosic doesn’t sound like a Jewish last name and that is because of the simple fact that it isn’t. My mother is Jewish (Rubin is her family name), my father is not and I grew up in a secular, intermarried home. My parents got divorced when I was almost 9 and that is the summer that I went to Jewish summer camp for the first time. I went to Camp Tamarack in Michigan and for a young child of a recent divorced intermarried couple, it was a perfect fit. I began to connect to my Jewish identity, I had positive male role models, I gained self-esteem and I even picked up some new camp skills along the way. Camp Tamarack made an indelible impression on me and it gave me an incredibly strong Jewish identity. My friends at home were Jewish, I joined BBYO and NFTY, I went on an Israel trip and I felt completely connected. I stayed at camp for 15 summers as a camper, CIT, counselor and leadership staff member. It was my life, it was my support system, it was where I felt safe and it was my second home.
I knew that I wanted to be a camp director when I was a 17 years old TSS (counselor in training) at Camp Tamarack. When I was at camp, working with kids or in a specialty area, everything made sense. I felt like Neo in The Matrix, where everything moved in slow motion and I could clearly see every event, while being able to contextualize it into the big picture goals of camp. I went to the University of Michigan, where in my majority Jewish fraternity, I became friends with several kids from the East Coast who were quick to let me know that camp director was not a real job. This notion crept into my head and even though I worked at camp throughout college, I started looking towards a future where camp was about wistful memories and sending my children to camp someday. After college, I worked as a consultant and earned an MBA. I moved to New York to begin my journey to become a Master of the Business Universe. I took a job doing international strategy with American Express and camp became a wonderful part of the past that helped get me to where I was in life.
However, even as I was enjoying success in New York, I couldn’t shake camp from my mind. I would frequently find myself thinking about Tamarack and wondering what it would mean to exchange corporate strategy for camp on my resume. I even went as far as to help lead Tamarack TSS camping trips to Algonquin National Park on my vacation. You can only imagine the looks of disbelief i got, when I told my co-workers how I was spending my time off. They couldn’t believe that I would rather go camping with a bunch of kids than go on the high end vacations that they had planned. I just shrugged it off, slung my backpack over my shoulder and headed back to Ortonville.
All of the philosophical camp-as-a-job conversations became very real for me on September 11th, 2001. I was next to The World Trade Center when the first plane flew directly over my head and slammed into the North Tower. By the end of that day, I began to think about my life and what was important to me. By the end of the week, I was beginning to think about how to make major meaningful changes in my life. By the end of the month, I was making my exit plan and by the end of the year, I had reached back into the Jewish camping world to really see about following my dream. I was very lucky to connect with Camp Young Judaea Midwest and by March, I had moved to Chicago to become the new camp director. That was 12 summers ago, with the past 8 summers spent as the Executive Director of Beber Camp and the Perlman Retreat Center. I haven’t had a bad day during that time and I have been able to follow my dreams. I have had the opportunity to begin to repay everything I got out of my camp experience. I am now married with my first daughter on the way and I am looking forward to raising my family in a Jewish camp environment.
Jewish summer camp is one of the most powerful experiences that we can provide to our children. I am a prime example of how camp can impact a person if it’s done correctly. It can take a kid from an intermarried family and make him a positively connected Jewish adult. It can take a child of divorced parents and give him the foundation for being happily married with a child on the way. It can make a highly successful career oriented businessman and drive him to return to a super meaningful life in the non-profit Jewish camping world. Even as I am writing this blog entry, I am getting excited about the upcoming summer at Beber Camp. That is how powerful Jewish camping can be when it’s done right.
That is me in a nutshell and now you have a bit of background on me, as I dive into a year of blogging for The Canteen. I look forward to connecting with you over the next several months and sharing a year in the life of a camp director. I hope to show you the amazing things that we are doing at Beber Camp and give you context to think about it in terms of your own experience. From discussing excellent child care and unpacking world class programming to creating a supportive welcoming Jewish community and sharing camp stories, it’s going to be a fun ride. Which is what camp is also all about at the end of the day.