Each summer, as I make my yearly pilgrimage across North America to visit Jewish camps, I feel fortunate to soak in incredible moments – a camper conquering a fear of heights on the zip line for the first time, our Cornerstone fellows running a program exploring Jewish values with campers, and of course, meals ending with song sessions filled with unbridled ruach (spirit) and joy.
I also see first-hand the responsibility and complexity of the role of the camp directors. My admiration and appreciation grows with every visit as I have in-depth discussions with these professionals, their leadership teams, and their lay leaders. As we walk through camp, the constant buzz of the walkie-talkie reminds me of the enormity of the job at hand.
Unanticipated incidents – a staggering range from medical issues and staff performance to internal and external communications – present challenges for these professionals. I marvel at how the larger camp community rallies to support each other during these trials, and especially in times of emergency.
Earlier this week, one of our specialty camps, Camp Ramah in the Rockies experienced a serious electrical fire that destroyed their dining hall, kitchen, and administrative offices. Fortunately, the damage was contained and everyone was safely evacuated. The camp leadership handled this emergency calmly and swiftly, according to their emergency training and planning. Their communication with staff, campers, parents and the larger community was clear, thoughtful and effective. Incredibly, the local JCC Ranch Camp opened its doors and welcomed the entire Ramah camp to its site for the final week of activities.
Camp professionals handle whatever comes their way with grace, agility, and dignity. I am continually awe-struck by our talented, dedicated, and mindful camp directors working tirelessly and under the weight of enormous responsibility. While we often talk about the importance of Jewish camp in the lives of the campers, we do not do enough to acknowledge the many details camp directors must master. Camp directors come to their role from many different backgrounds – social workers, educators, business executives, Rabbis – but they all approach their role seriously and intentionally. One camp director recently said to me, “We are not just taking care of campers; we are taking care of people’s children.” It is a task no one takes lightly.
These leaders have my admiration and gratitude for the roles they play in creating and enabling joyous Jewish expressions to come to life.