By Sharon Kollender, Camp Harlam Council Member
“Camp Harlam.” Just saying those words evokes enormously wonderful emotions from our family and from anyone else who is “in the know” about this camp. Those words typically bring about huge smiles, sentimental tears and an instantaneous belting out of camp songs or cheers in unison. As a former camper, current parent and Camp Council member, I am often asked by others who do not know much about Camp Harlam, “Why? What makes it so special?”
I believe that it begins with the incredible sense of community that is built at our camp, from the youngest members through to the senior staff, and extending to our alumni. Simply put, everyone is welcomed and valued, loved and appreciated, treated as an equal. My children often comment on how great it is that they can truly just be themselves at camp, a sentiment not frequently heard from teenagers in daily life (and, in my opinion, a real gift for kids these days). Within this community, extremely close, genuine bonds are formed and friends feel more like a big, safe, caring family. The friendships don’t end on the last day of camp, but continue through the school year and frequently into adulthood. Even as an adult, when I run into someone who I learn went to Camp Harlam, there is an instant connection and sense of warmth.
At the core of our camp is certainly our shared connection to Judaism. Yes, this means Shabbat dinners and beautiful services that bring tears to our eyes. Yes, this means Hebrew songs and awesome Israeli counselors integrated into our staff. However, as a parent, I am most grateful for the Jewish values that my children are immersed in each day. Respect, kindness, heritage, social consciousness, responsibility, leadership, integrity, community, I could go on and on. Of course the campers play sports, do art, swim, go on trips and all of the other wonderful and fun day-to-day camp activities, but to me it is the character building that makes us different. It is the development of identity, confidence and connectedness to our strong community (as described earlier).
So, to be honest, it is really difficult to put into words the strong ties that my family (now on our third Harlam generation) feels towards this very special camp. What I can say is that it is worth discovering for your family.