Camp: The Great Continuum
by Barbara Lerman-Golomb
It’s hard to believe that camp is nearing the homestretch. Just a few short weeks ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to officially welcome second session families when we volunteered at Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge, MA, for Opening Day. The old timers waltzed in confidently to their “second home,” while the newbies moved with trepidation into this unfamiliar territory. Many of the children held tightly to belongings, mostly stuffed animals that would comfort them, helping to ease their home to camp transition.
As I checked in campers, I tried to recall what it felt like on my first day as a camper and what it felt like to be the parent of a first-time camper 14 years ago. My husband and I met at camp and moved through the ranks from campers to specialists. At an early age, our children inherited our strong connection to camp. This summer at Crane Lake, our daughter Joie is the program director, and our daughter Sophie is the upper Bonim unit head. Joie began as a counselor of the same group of girls from one year to the next, and when she became the drama director, Sophie became their counselor. The two of them have had an active role in shepherding these girls through their camp journey. They are Machon (counselors-in-training) now, and some of them are even in the unit in which Sophie is the unit head, working together as colleagues. There are also campers at Crane Lake whose mothers were my campers when I was a counselor; some of them are in my daughter’s unit as well. It has been incredible watching our children move from campers to counselors to senior staff in leadership roles, and it’s been an added bonus to witness their campers and the children of my campers grow up.
After all the families had arrived that morning of Opening Day, I found myself up on Girls Row helping some parents navigate camp. I peeked into a few bunks. On a lower bunk bed, I spotted a stuffed animal that looked familiar. It was one of the treasured belongings I had seen gripped in the arms of a first-time camper when I was helping to check her in. I was overcome with emotion seeing how it had been placed so lovingly on her neatly made bed. I thought about how she woke up that morning with that stuffed animal on her bed at home, how they made the ride together to camp, and how that treasured part of home was now part of her “second home.” It was amazing how quickly the campers had settled in to what would be their new surroundings for the next four weeks: their own personal space, yet a shared space.
Camp offers that dichotomy – a place to exert your independence and even reinvent yourself, yet a place to learn how to function within a community. As I looked around, I tried to recall what it felt like to be a counselor to campers on their first day, and I thought about that awesome responsibility and privilege to positively impact a child’s life, in a way different from their parents. What lifelong memories did my daughters and I help to create for our campers? What lessons did we impart to our campers that they will in turn impart to their future campers? While bunks may look different and camp songs change and new traditions are created, camp is unique in that there remains a shared experience from one generation to the next, l’dor v’dor.
One song that remains timeless is Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game.” I sang it at camp, my children sang it, and hopefully present and future campers will continue to sing it, “We can’t return / We can only look behind / From where we came / And go round and round and round / In the circle game.”
Camp is the great continuum!
Barbara Lerman-Golomb is the Social Responsibility / Sustainability Consultant for Jewish Community Centers Association of North America and a member of the URJ’s Commission on Social Action and the URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Board. She is an author, educator and educational materials designer. Barbara and her husband, Johnny Golomb, were instrumental in founding URJ Camp Harlam Alumni International (CHAI). Barbara writes a blog, A Life in Many Small Parts.