By Jessica Dangott, Summer Education Director. Jessica is a long time camper and staff member from College Station, Texas.
I want to tell you a story. It’s a chapter of my history here at GFC. It is “mystory.” I intend for it not to remain a mystery, but rather to blossom into a lesson about Jewish learning at summer camp. A type of learning that often occurs way before we realize we are learning.
Picture this: A short, shy, knees-shaking 12-year-old from College Station, Texas. A young girl who was accustomed to being the only Jewish kid in her grade level out of roughly 650 students. One out of 650! In the summer of 2001, my paternal grandparents gifted me with my first summer at Greene Family Camp—an opportunity to meet other Jewish kids my age, and to realize that there was another way to be one out of hundreds.
Roughly two weeks into the session, I was completely immersed in the fun activities and new friends that GFC introduced to me. Totally in my element, I was confused when one of my bunk counselors asked me to accompany her to the front office. Never being called to the principal’s office before, and unsure as to how not turning off my flashlight after the first request the night before would be grounds for sending me to the front office, I could do nothing but murmur, “Sure, can I bring my fish sticks?” It turns out, I had done nothing wrong. Phew…
What I didn’t see coming was a surprise visit from my mother, a close friend of hers, and my younger brother. Hugs and kisses were shared, and kind words checking in on how I was doing were spoken, but I could tell that they were not here to bear good news. It was that day that I learned of my paternal grandfather’s passing. I cried while continuing to nibble on my fish sticks as I ingested this sad news. My mom asked if I wanted to go home or stay at camp to finish the session. I wasn’t quite sure how to even begin to think about how to answer. I was 12-years-old—I had no life experience thus far to find confidence in making such a choice.
Then, it suddenly dawned on me. My grandparents, Nana and Pop, made the choice to gift me with this summer experience—this Jewish experience. I had to take into consideration what they would want me to do in this situation. Instantly, I could hear Pop telling me that I should stay at camp. He and Nana would have wanted me to stay and continue to grow as an individual and as a Jew.
That summer, I learned that we learn at all ages and stages in our lives. And, we learn a great deal from our surrounding peers and environments. The connections I made in those short two weeks of my first summer had a unique impact on my life then, and to this day hold a meaningful place in my heart.
Making the decision to stay at camp that first summer changed my life for the better. It is now my 11th summer at camp, and my 8th summer as a staff member. I truly believe that it is the experiences and interpersonal connections that I create and nurture every summer that nourish my identity as a Jew—individually, as part of the wider GFC community, and as a member of the Jewish people across the globe. It is these interpersonal connections that are also responsible for many informal educational moments that take place at camp. Meeting new people and listening to their individual life stories is perhaps the best education we could ever experience. Here, at GFC, this happens every second of every day in every place on camp. By learning from our peers in a setting like GFC, we are learning Jewishly. And, we don’t always need a pile of supplies to learn in this way!
My Pop helped me to realize that we will continue to learn every day of our lives, and that it is an extraordinary experience to be able to do so. He gifted me with the ability to see the good in not-so-good situations, and to help others realize their unique gifts and stories as well.
My first wish for this summer is that everyone—campers and staff members—strive to learn about themselves and about their peers. We all have a unique “mystory,” and we shouldn’t be afraid to share them with each other. My second wish for this summer is that we all learn from each other. Share your gift and be a part of this amazing Jewish learning experience!