By Dani Katowitz, Camp Harlam Staff Member and Olim Fellow
Every summer there are so many different types of staff members who comprise our special camp community. Some travel thousands of miles to a place they have never been. Others come back each summer to “pay it forward” to their campers, giving them the most amazing summer, just as their counselors had done for them. Many of these people have never met each other before the first day of staff week. Then there are those of us who were campers, and are now on staff. We know everyone who has been at camp before. And within those groups there is another unique group of us on staff, a group of us who are in our first or second year on camp staff. Who have been given a special opportunity to be Olim Fellows, and we can be found every summer all over camp.
Besides giving up three weekends over the course of two years and a few periods throughout each session of camp, fellows commit themselves for two years to be staff members of camp. This part was pretty easy. We all have such a passion and love for Camp Harlam. Being an Olim Fellow seemed like a natural thing to do.
As a second year Olim fellow, I have learned things about being a counselor I never thought I would. Having the opportunity to sit down with other young Jewish people my age, and compare evening rituals or days that we have had at camp, as our first summer on staff is pretty amazing. Camp is really a special experience. Not everyone who you meet gets it. Through Olim, we made friends with people who didn’t attend Camp Harlam, but who understand camp and the importance of camp as strong Jewish role models to campers.
Last week, the Olim Class of 2013 (second year staff members) participated in our last Olim Kallah. We started our journey last year in April at Camp Eisner in Great Barrington, MA. We continued it last summer meeting each other together and right before Thanksgiving we met at Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Georgia. For our last Kallah, which was really special for us to spend it in Kunkletown.
Last Thursday, the eleven Harlamites gathered in Philly, along with our counterparts from the other camps. We were welcomed by Aaron, Alex, Beth and Brett along with professionals at the other camps. We spent Friday learning about amazing Jewish history of Philadelphia and throughout the United States from Rabbi Lance Sussman as we toured, Philly and the National Museum of American Jewish History. We heard stories about remarkable Jewish leaders from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism. We learned the power Judaism has in the world and about the importance being a Jewish role model has in life.
We then made our favorite drive to Kunkletown where we welcomed the new members of the Olim Class of 2014. Throughout the rest of the weekend we helped them develop strengths as leaders to be the best staff members that they can be this summer. This is just what we had learned from the Olim Class of 2012. We spent the weekend meeting together with camp professionals, participated in seminars led by Harlam rabbis and educators. It was a great way to end what was a very special program. There are always new things to learn, as we will always have room to grow. The Olim Fellows program has most definitely made our Harlam Olim Class of 2013 a strong group of staff members.
Olim is part of the reason my connection to camp is so strong. I learned what it takes to be a role model and really understand what I needed to do for my campers from the first day of camp last summer. Not only is Olim special because we are able to meet other young people just like us who love camp. It is also special because it allows us to think about camp at different times of the year, to prepare as counselors, and to grow Jewishly. The skills I learned will help me at camp this summer and throughout life.
But our Jewish journeys continue. Although we may no longer have Olim kallot, the fellows of 2013 will continue to grow as Jewish leaders due to the impact of this wonderful program and our time spent at camp as staff members.