August 10, 2012
The past week at Camp Harlam was remarkable. Campers of all ages have reached that point in the session when the jam-packed schedule of activities reaches a fever pitch and they enter into the home-stretch of the summer. Even the presence of rain on some days hasn’t really slowed down the pace of camp here; our campers and staff are so flexible and have ruach (spirit) to spare, so a little bit of inclement weather interspersed in our week is no big concern.
When I sat to gather my thoughts this week, preparing to enjoy Shabbat with my camp family, I was overwhelmed by the many interesting things that I had seen and done and felt in the last seven days. Usually I can see a story taking shape during the week and, when it’s time to sit down to write, the message is clear. But when I tried to do that today, I kept changing my mind. So, with your indulgence, I’d like to share a handful of vignettes that I’m excited to have been a part of and hope that you will enjoy a bit of “The Week That Was”.
Camp Harlam has held these day-long gatherings of former campers and staff for many years. Last summer I got a chance to see how one is planned and facilitated and, before the day had ended, I already had reached an accord with our professional staff that we would make sure that next year’s attendees would be much happier. And that’s what we did. Under Brett Goldenhorn’s direction, with a great deal of support from Rachel Steinberg, Josh Shain and many others, we had a spectacular day. Over 350 people attended (the most since we gathered for the occasion of Arie Gluck’s retirement ten years ago) and they were welcomed and treated to a day that all could be proud of. We laughed together, we cried together, we raised thousands of dollars to be contributed towards the Mitch Perlmeter Scholarship Fund, and we showed-off camp in various ways. As part of our efforts to establish and grow the community’s development of a “giving culture”, we were proud to share some of the highlights of our planned projects and make an initial call for support. Most special was the opportunity to share our recent establishment of the Merfish Family Fund for Jewish Life, the Mitch Perlmeter Scholarship Fund, and the initial gift from the Fendrick family in memory of Alan Fendrick for the construction of brand-new Leadership Cabins in Boys and Girls Camp (to coincide with the upcoming reconstruction and renovations of those cabins). Thank you to all of the alumni that made the trip to Kunkletown to join us.
As many know, one of the great assets at Camp Harlam is our strong relationship with more than 100 Reform Movement congregations throughout our region. These connections spur great partnership in programming and outreach to families, but most of all, it helps to bring over 50 different Rabbis, Cantors, Educators and Youth Professionals to our site for two-week rotations throughout the summer. During their time here, they engage in intentional and effective support and relationship-building with our campers and staff, they help to teach in innovative and creative ways to inspire a connection to Judaism, and most of all, they become a seamless part of our multidimensional and mutigenerational community. And one of the great pleasures is when I get to sit with these Faculty members to chat about camp, assess how we’re doing, and share in the special moments that we get to see with our kids each and every day. Today our Weeks 7/8 Faculty regaled in the attitude and enthusiasm of camp this year and gave wonderful examples of how our staff members are shining in new ways with the campers. My favorite was the description of the Kineret minhag (custom) of the male campers serenading the female campers as part of their daily ritual. This was something started by the counselors and the campers seem to really love it!
We’ve welcomed many special visitors to camp this summer, including Stephanie (who spent time with us on Thursday) and her husband, Steve. The Cohen family is from Cherry Hill, NJ and has sent three daughters to Camp Harlam. With one child in Girls Camp, one that just returned from the NFTY in Israel trip and one on staff, they have certainly invested greatly in our camp. Stephanie and Steve had a great stay with us and got to check-out lots of the awesome things going on here. But the real story to tell here is not about this last visit. It’s actually about the SIX other visits (each one a round-trip from/to South Jersey) that Stephanie had already made this summer to Camp Harlam in order to drop-off, pick-up and assist with travel for the three girls. This sort of dedication is not totally unique at camp; many of our families go to great lengths to help make camp possible for their sons and daughters. So it got me to thinking…will anyone beat Stephanie’s record of seven visits to camp in one summer? Let’s see…!
On Tuesday night, I really was treated to something incredible. Six Galil campers had planned an evening program (on their own, without much help from their staff members) for the entire unit to partipcate in and enjoy. They chose the theme, wrote-up the plan, gathered the supplies, and coordinated the expeirnce for all of the Galil campers and counselors. And my part – which I was honored to be asked to do – was to be “found” at the end of the activity and subjected to an intense Q&A by the unit. Sitting with these adolescents was a true test of my mettle as they peppered me with queries ranging from “What happened to your Harry Potter glasses from last year?” to “When’s Maccabiah (Color War)?” But more than the questions and answers themselves, the real value was in spending the time to get to know the kids a little bit more personally and for them to do the same with me. The program, overall, was a really big hit, and its success will breed more confidence and independence for the Galil campers. Yasher Koach (great job), Galil!
I grew up and spent 29 summers at Pinemere Camp. Pinemere is another Jewish camp in the area (less than 30 minutes away), and for me and for many other campers that grew-up there, Camp Harlam is a natural rival in terms of inter-camp sports for campers and staff. I spent many afternoons on the fields and courts of both camps trying to score a goal or make a basket, and it’s funny in some ways to end up here as the director after all of that. For those trying to gauge my allegiance and loyalties, the last week would have been a great time to see what I’m all about. Early in the week, there was a big yellow school bus that pulled into camp and a stream of Pinemere campers poured out. Although it’s been four years since I directed Pinemere, I knew some of the campers and the staff that were present. In fact, I knew one of the campers extremely well. Her name is Lily Selkow. And she was at Harlam on that day to try to beat my Harlam kids in soccer and Gaga (Lily has attended Pinemere forever, and my wife continues to work there as a year-round professional). Watching from the sidelines and standing on the edge of the pit was a bit surreal, but unlike last year when this happened and I felt overwhelmed with emotion, this year was wonderful. I cheered for our Harlam teams, and though we didn’t win all the games, we did so well. I was incredibly proud of our sportsmanship, and I was impressed by the way that they reached out to the Pinemere campers (all of the kids even got to enjoy an end-of-day- snack we provided together). And while I did smile as I watched my daughter – she’s a pretty amazing little athlete and I love to watch her compete – I knew where my heart was…here at Harlam. To be more certain of my commitment to our camp you might have also enjoyed watching us on Wednesday night as our staff hosted basketball and softball games against Pinemere’s staff. Although I played only a small part in the victory in the Sports Palace, I was proud of how we came back from a 5-point halftime deficit to beat Pinemere in hoops. We fell by two runs in softball (they had one big inning and the game was short, regretfully), but again, I was so proud of the way that we played and the fun that we all had. Our staff members were truly the kind of role models that we mean them to be at camp for our campers, and this is a community that I am lucky to be a part of.
We’re about to enter the final week of the 2012 camp season, and there will be many more stories like these to tell. For those with children at camp right now, know that they are having a great time, trying new things, laughing really hard, singing at the top of their lungs, splashing in puddles, mastering skills, cleaning their cabins, following the rules, testing limits, making new friends, running really fast, stalling at “lights-out” time, concentrating when needed, doing Jewish stuff, asking lots of questions, and having moments of joy and development that will be carried with them throughout the rest of their lives. They will have so many stories to tell at the end of the summer…I know that you’ll be excited to hear them.