by: Aaron Selkow, Camp Harlam Director
Dear Camp Families & Camp Friends:
There were many amazing things that happened at Camp Harlam this week. I was able to join or step into various activities in our many departments to see smiles and hear laughter, as well as to watch our campers engage in so many diverse programs. I listened to and learned from staff and faculty members that offered wonderful perspective and experiential education in places like our climbing tower, our swimming pool and garden. There was a lopsided basketball game against the CITs (over-the-hill camp directors can apparently get the better of youngsters every so often), and a sharing session with Junior Camp kids that offered insight into the most fun and challenging parts of our session. We had Alumni Day with over 300 guests that featured an incredible talk by Grace Lissauer, niece of Joseph and Betty Harlam, and some playtime with our Camp K’ton kids that made for a cute video. There was a trip to Dorney Park, reports from our Senior Camp participants as they explored New York, Washington and Philadelphia, there were play practices (Willy Wonka is reported to be showing up at Harlam on Monday), paint wars, Pinemere Games, and so on, and so on…
But for the most inspirational moment from the week, I will turn to my greatest teachers at camp: our campers.
Galil, our unit for rising eighth graders, held a special evening program that presented a profound and look into how special our camp and its community are for so many here. As part of an activity where the boys and girls in the unit were tasked with designing their own ideal camp, I joined Beth Kanofsky (Senior Assistant Director) and Alex Gelman (Assistant Director) to act as judges (and announce the winner of the huge first-place prize…which was a giant, fake, check!). The program was designed and facilitated by Erica Barish and Harry Marchbank, two Galil counselors.
The groups met together to negotiate and decide on their choices for camp characteristics in various areas including the selection of the ideal menu, the ideal facility, and the ideal daily schedule. And while these aspects of their planning uncovered some astute (and sometimes even practical) ideas, it was each team’s presentation by their “Camp Director” in order to try to market their camp to the entire audience that stole the show.
Each spokesperson said something awesome. As the various teens took the microphone, the three camp professionals meant to be informing and legitimizing this process were blown away by something clever or funny or downright brilliant. The campers were smart; they were articulate; and they seemed authentically impacted and inspired by their own experiences as campers at Camp Harlam. As much as they offered creative (and even crazy) innovations, many of the things that already exist at Camp Harlam became part of the foundation of their ideal camp scenarios. Among other things, the central place that Jewish Life and Shabbat continued to have in each ideal camp model made us feel great and spoke well of what we work so hard to make happen here each and every summer.
And while everyone did a fantastic job and we watched lots of great support coming from peers and staff for each team, there was one part of the night that stood out for me. Ben Wilson, a camper in Galil Boys 1 who is from Allentown, PA, walked to the edge of the stage and recited the following as his team’s Director to describe their ideal camp:
As a young boy on the cusp of his teenage years, I was a lover of laughter, a lover of friendship, a lover of joy, and a lover of opportunity. I rose each day with a song in my head and a hope that today I would make a difference. I may not have been the strongest or the fastest, but there is no doubt that I had the most heart.
Looking out each morning – the bunk window still glistening with dew – my eyes fell on the great trees that lined the path, towards our future.
In this holy space, I saw imagination float through the breeze just like the laughter of campers present and past. In this tranquility, I closed my eyes and I was at peace. Even with the pitter-patter of rain on a Shabbat evening, I thought to myself, “This is home. This is where I am meant to be.”
And with a light in my heart and a twinkle in my eye, I can proudly say that this is where you are meant to be, too.
Ben knew he had struck a chord with us, and to be fair, I’m sure that some of the beautifully-written prose was meant to play to the judges’ sensitivity and heartstrings. But whether or not Ben and his peers were trying hard to win the competition, the sentiments that he shared rang true. Each of the Pro Staff with me was taken with Ben’s words, and I left the program feeling so proud of our camp and its campers and staff for creating an environment within which feelings like this could blossom and be so widely accepted. Applauded by teenagers, no less.
As it turns out, Ben’s group didn’t win the Big Check. Can you imagine that the other stuff our campers came up with was so astounding that Ben’s speech only warranted being made a runner-up? If you want to know what it was that ultimately rated so highly, you need only keep sending your kids to Camp Harlam to find out since we jotted down a great list of new things that we would like to try. And I’ll be meeting with Ben during the off-season this year to learn how to, “write more good.”
As my teacher, Ben, said…
Any questions, feedback, suggestions or thoughts? Please contact me at ThinkCamp@URJ.org.