Tonight we had the chance to bring in another Shabbat at Camp Harlam. The positive break in our bad weather allowed for the most special evening at Chapel on the Hill; voices carried across the Mahoning Valley and fell behind the distant horizon. Reflections as our campers and staff members sang and regaled in Reform Jewish life and culture must have included a vast array of things that occurred this past week. There was Carmel/Chavurah Day (the greatest “Big Brother/Sister – Little Brother/Sister” event I’ve ever seen), beautiful and powerful L’Dor V’Dor t’filah (services) on Thursday where campers and their counselors inspired us, camper sports versus Pinemere and participation by Harlam in the Camp JRF Ultimate Frisbee Tournament (lots of victories, but even more fun), various units traveling to Beltzville Lake for an afternoon of water play and hanging out, cool Teva (outdoors) programs that sustained despite the raindrops falling, some outrageous Evening Programs run by our staff, and a whole lot more.
As we completed another wonderful Shabbat meal together (and a Song Session that had as much banging on the tables as ever), the campers wrapped-up the day and eventually made their way back to their cabins. At this point, I was able to retreat to my office to finish some work, including completion of my weekly blog post. And it was at this point that I realized that what I needed to write about was something different.
In a few hours, Camp Harlam will welcome the largest number of guests for Alumni Day in its history. But whether it’s 250, 350 or 450 people does not really matter (except, of course, for the sake of finding enough seats at Chapel in the Woods and guaranteeing that there will be enough food for everyone at the BBQ!). The purpose of the day is to welcome home those that want to reconnect to each other and refresh their relationship with a place that was part of their development as a young person. It’s a great concept, and that’s why so many camps (and schools) do this.
But Alumni Day actually started tonight.
Camp Harlam has three Assistant Directors: Alex Gelman, Beth Kanofsky and Brett Goldenhorn. These members of our wonderful Professional Staff carry a great deal of responsibility on their shoulders for the operation of the camp program and systems every day; they are terrific representatives of our leadership and they work very hard.
They also share something in common that is extra-special: they’re all former Camp Harlam campers and staff. Being relatively new to Harlam offers challenges for me at times, but having the asset of my colleagues’ insight from so many years of experience here is critical. Alex, Beth and Brett guide me (and others), they share tremendous dedication to camp, and they even moved-in together this summer to their own shared space (our version of “Three’s Company”…sort of!).
When I settled into my chair and started working tonight, I soon heard (through our ever-so-thin walls) a subtle change in their typical professionalism. They had entered the “Alumni Zone”. With the knowledge of how many of their peers and other fellow alumni would be driving through our gates tomorrow, it makes sense that they would become a little giddy and start to walk down their own “Memory Lanes”. But the real tipping point to drive their alumni-energy level up must have been the presence of Ali Petok, Dan Slipakoff and Rob Schlissel.
Ali, Dan and Rob have been friends for many years, and their relationships started here at camp. And their friendship circle includes Alex, Beth and Brett. So now there were six impassioned Harlamites laughing and joking and telling snippets of stories collected from many summers here in Kunkletown. They were all transported back to sometime when they were a little younger; back to when they were learning from their counselors and testing their limits.
These young adults are extraordinary evidence of what works at Camp Harlam. Dan and Ali, who will be married in the next year, are frequent supporters of camp; they are willing to come and help and lead various initiatives despite having their own jobs and lives that get busier every day. Rob, on the other hand, has not been back at camp since 2006, but he found the time to join our Olim (Staff) Fellows in the spring for a New York seminar. They fall back into the same speech and storytelling that has sustained them for years, and they are wonderful examples of the value in spending time at Camp Harlam.
As these visitors connected with our own alumni members, they brought out in Alex, Beth and Brett the personal connection and vibrant love for camp that can only be felt by someone that has gone to camp here. The rest of us that love this place have to accept that we are missing a little something. Our Assistant Directors are more than teachers; they are products of this great place.
In a few short hours, the stream of cars will start to form and we will see another celebration of past, present and future at Camp Harlam. We will have people that are recent graduates of our programs at the same time that grandparents show-up that have been sending their grandchildren to the same camp that they went to years ago. There will be smiling faces, and there will be tears. Hundreds of adults will reflect on their time here and will grow to even better appreciate how significant that experience must have been. They will hug and they will kiss; there will be no shortage of bellowing laughs.
Our present campers have some time before they need to start thinking of themselves as “alumni”, but tomorrow will help them to appreciate the generational impact of our camp community. They will giggle when they watch adults act like children, and they will probably feel like their good times are being encroached upon. But to have them here at the same time that their predecessors walk through their own Stomping Grounds is important. It can inspire them.
I hope that I get to see many of you when Alumni Day begins, and I thank you so much for your continued support of camp.