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!
As part of our summer blog series on 21st Century Skills, we are featuring personal stories from camp alumni and professionals across the field exemplifying how Jewish camp provided the ideal environment to become the best version of themselves.
Over the many years that I have been involved in the world of Jewish camp, I have seen camp inspire confidence in kids and young adults who may not have believed in themselves before. This happened for me during a transformational summer as a counselor in training in 2007 at Camp Kadimah in Nova Scotia, Canada.
One thing I firmly believe is that behind all growth that happens at camp, every skill that gets developed and memory that gets made, is a specific person who enables these incredible changes. And for my evolution as a CIT, I will always credit Jonah Epstein, my CIT Director. I remember one night at camp, Jonah and I sat on the porch of his cabin and talked late into the night. I opened up for the first time about my insecurities, how I hadn’t necessarily felt particularly special as a camper the year before and I felt like I might not be good enough as a CIT. I remember Jonah turning to me and telling me that he believed in me, that he saw something special in me, and that he knew I had the ability to be a really special CIT that summer.
I must have been waiting to hear something like that, from someone, expressing the confidence in me that I wasn’t entirely able to have myself. And from that moment on, I resolved that I would take as much initiative as I could to be the best CIT camp had seen. In this new role, not quite a staff member yet but more than a camper, I was given the chance to take on responsibility and take initiative to make camp, and my camp experience, what I wanted it to be.
I, along with a couple friends, decided that for a special project, we would plan a midnight Alice in Wonderland themed carnival for the youngest campers. We decked out the entire gym in decorations, enlisting dozens of our fellow CITs and staff to man booths, and even replaced the bunk counselors in their beds so that we could get up at midnight and surprise the campers. I remember the wonder in their eyes as they were awakened and taken to the ulam (gym), where they crawled through a tunnel and emerged to all sorts of excitement. And I remember seeing just how inspired they could be, and how much good I could do and change I could create in others’ lives through my own initiative.
Those memories kept me coming back to camp year in and year out for so many summers. And I still thank Jonah, and that night, sitting on a porch, for instilling in me the confidence to start taking initiative, make a difference, and be the best version of myself.
How did Jewish camp impact your personal growth? Tell us your story in the comments, on Facebook or tweet @JewishCamp using the hashtag #JCampSkills.