I have had the great honor and privilege to have visited 103 different camps across North America over the last 3 ½ years. For me, many summer days have been “Visitors Day” where the director, board chair, professional staff and many others have welcomed me inside their summer “home.” At each, I observed, I listened, and I learned. I also provided feedback, shared how others are addressing issues, and encouraged pursuit of growth opportunities.
Each “Visitors Day” has inspired me, seeing the incredible progress being made by our field, and in witnessing the positive impact Jewish camp is having on molding the next generation of committed, engaged Jewish leaders. No matter the differences in physical facilities, topography, denomination, or programmatic focus, each camp is creating positive memories and a sense of community which will indeed last a lifetime.
But yesterday, I experienced a very personal “Visitors Day.” My wife and I, joined by my sister and brother-in-law, visited our two very happy campers at Camp Yavneh, in Northwood, New Hampshire. While this is their fourth summer at camp, it is the first time they are both staying for the full season, (and the first time that we have another three and a half childless weeks!)
And, while the letters have been great and photos have been full of smiles (yes, I admit I too am addicted to seeing the updated photos each week, day, hour!), there is nothing quite like feeling the strong hug and seeing, up close and personal, their wide smiles. As we straighten out their cubbies together, and put the very dirty socks into the laundry bag, we heard about the late night “boxer run” and of saying farewell to those friends leaving after first session.
Just walking around their camp, I paid no attention to the physical features, but rather kept listening to their stories about what takes place in each location — the garden, the amphitheatre, the flagpole, and the lakefront.
And their stories brought out something their letters could never express. Their Jewish identity is becoming their own. Their electives, their experiences, their friendships, their joy, their achievements – all expressed through a context that is as individual as their Jewish identity. With each story they tell, there are the underpinnings of a d’var torah, Hebrew phrases, and a pride derived from the values camp teaches, something that I too can not describe, except to say it is the magic of Jewish camp.
Even more, as we walked around camp, we kept passing counselors and staff members greeting our two kids, introducing themselves to us, and each commenting in a way that made us know they actually knew our kids. I am witnessing the community bond that we talk about at FJC actually happening to my kids. Better than any Parent-Teacher Conference, we received feedback from the camp community members who have watched them grow and develop over the last four years. As a parent, we could wish for nothing more.
As we left, no dramas, hugs and kisses, thanks for the special gifts, the letters, and the visit, but then running and skipping back to their bunks, back to their special community. Smiling and thriving.
Driving home, my wife and I commented on how fortunate we feel that we can see that “Camp Works” for our own kids, just as it “worked” for both of us, many moons ago. Jewish camp provides an opportunity for kids to create their own independent connection to their Judaism, in a joy-filled, positive way.
Thank you Camp Yavneh for the impact you are having on our two kids. Thank you to all Jewish camps for tremendous impact you are having on all of our kids.
And yes, those dirty socks will never be allowed back into our home!