It’s hard for me to believe, but this summer was my 13th as Director of Jacobs Camp. The leadership of the Camp Committee felt the milestone warranted recognition; so, on Saturday, July 21st, when the Camp Committee and those attending Alumni Day were in camp, I read from the Torah, received a blessing, and got gifts. Yes, I had my second Bar Mitzvah.
(If you are interested, you can watch my Bar Mitzvah Video – all 62 minutes and 43 seconds of it! Yes, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can enjoy the entire spectacle! I know my mother would appreciate it if you watched. If you scroll forward to 31:05, you can witness me reading Torah – uncomfortably. Be assured, if you are ever in my home, I WON’T make you watch this video. Unless you ask.)
By the way, I did not give a thank-you speech after my reading, so I do need to thank my tutor, Andi Feldman. Andi is entering her third year of rabbinic school at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and served as one of our summer education specialists. I hand-picked her from among the five rabbinic students we had at camp. During what was a busy week (always), we found several times to work together, and she did an outstanding job tutoring her boss. (I only contemplated firing her once during our time working together.) Thanks, Andi!
For a 13-year-old Bar Mitzvah boy, the theme of the event is looking forward; the young man is asked to contemplate his upcoming adult Jewish life, to consider how important Judaism will be to him in future years. And, he has to write a number of thank you notes.
For a 45-year-old Bar Mitzvah boy – especially one who works with young people, and is thus regularly reminded of his age – the theme of the event, at least for me, became looking inward and backward, reflecting on past challenges and achievements. And, I now have “people” to write thank you notes for me.
I am not going to write hundreds of flowery words laying out for the world what I feel I did well, and what I feel I did poorly, over the last 13 years. I’ll leave that to the armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers out there. And, of course, I need to save material for my memoir.
I can assure you that I have neither idealized nor nostalgized my time as director. (I HAVE both idealized and nostalgized my 14 years as a camper and staff member here at Jacobs; but, what alum out there hasn’t?) Over the years I have certainly had my ups and downs, both professionally and personally, and have learned so much from all that has transpired. And while the joke among camp directors is that we rarely have new conversations – just variations on those we’ve already had (a byproduct of our getting older while the people we work with stay the same age) – I am attuned to what I still don’t know and still haven’t had to face in this role.
So, instead of reflecting on 13 summers, I will just reflect on one – the summer of 2012. Here are a few of my favorite moments from the summer now ended.
- What an amazing experience it was to have Camp Darom join us for Americafest, our Fourth of July Celebration. Yes, the event led to many headlines in the Jewish press, both across the country and around the world, which is nice – I, for one, love that little ole Jacobs Camp is well-known and well-regarded not just within, but also beyond, the South. And, that we could smoothly and successfully bring Orthodox and Reform Jews together is, I suppose, a big deal. But, when all is said and done, it was just a great inter-camp program – a super-fun day for all who took part. Plus, Dan Nichols performing on an outside stage, with fireworks being shot off behind him? Just iconic.
- I am going to group together both Camper Talent Shows and the Hagigah (arts) portion of both Maccabiahs. Talent show is a time when campers voluntarily put themselves up in front of the camp community to share their talents and passions, with no qualms about just how developed those talents and passions are; I especially treasure the surprises – when a big moment comes out of a small camper, or when someone we know to be shy and reserved suddenly is center stage – it’s just awesome. At Hagigah, every camper in camp presents, and often outside of their comfort zone; and, everybody gets cheered on and celebrated for getting up in front of the camp. Where else but at camp is it truly safe to get up in front of a large group and just put yourself out there for all to see. (And, that this was the first summer we were doing all of this on the stage of our Performing Arts Center was just lagniappe.)
- On the first Shabbat of the summer, we dedicated a brand new ark and shulchan (reading table) for worship use in the Performing Arts Center. These pieces were handcrafted by Dr. Bob Cohan, a retired doctor and woodworking hobbyist, and they are beautiful. Their beauty is derived not just from the wood and skill used to craft them, but also from the love of Judaism and strong dedication to our Jewish future that Bob brought to the endeavor. Bob found a unique way to share his gifts with the camp; so many others, from across the region and around the world, show their love for Jacobs Camp in so many ways – and their ongoing support and commitment is valued a great deal.
- On the next to last Shabbat of Second Session, siblings Noah & Alanna Chensasky had their B’not Mitzvah at camp. On Memorial Day weekend, Dina Rosenstrauch had her Bat Mitzvah at camp. And during winter break of this year, Jessica Lewis will have hers here as well. And that’s just in 2012! I know so many of our campers leave with a strong attachment to this place; and, because they really see and get the impact, their families have a strong attachment as well. And when a family feels that attachment so strongly that they want their child’s special day to be here, with all the complications that come with it (we’re easy to work with, but a B’nai Mitzvah is a complicated beast!), I take it as such a compliment and such an honor. It means a great deal that we were honored in this way four times this year.
- I love when the camp loves authentic Jacobs Camp “moments”: the unbridled enthusiasm of song session; the rapt attention to lunch time skits, and every other dining hall performance; the moment during Kabbalat Shabbat when campers crowd together by bunk to receive a blessing from their counselors who are holding over them a tallit. Each of these moments is awesome in its own way.
- My personal favorite of all these moments? I love watching the camp watch the closing night video slideshow. As each image, each memory, passes by, there is a moment when the thrill of that moment comes back to each person in the room; and then, seconds later it happens again, and again. Pure joy.
A lot happens over the course of the eight weeks of the summer season. For every wonderful big moment, there are hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of wonderful small moments – some of which I witness, others I hear about from folks on my team, a few I am actually part of, and so many that are just part of the daily routine. Our counselors and staff members do so much every day – leading activities, planning and leading programs, keeping their campers (and fellow staff members) inspired and moving through the schedule, being enthusiastic about everything that happens at camp (even when they are not feeling so enthusiastic themselves), giving and receiving feedback with the goal of improving themselves and the camp experience, and more. More significant, though, is the way in which they are “in the lives” of our campers – the many, many ways in which they direct, counsel, coach, support, befriend, and role model for our campers is always impressive.
When the book is written about Summer 2012 at Jacobs Camp, it will be our counselors and staff members who will be the stars and heroes of the story. They are the ones who created and delivered the “Jacobs Magic” to our campers – and by extension their families and communities. As has been the case for all 43 summers of Jacobs Camp’s history, they made the summer great. I am proud of each and every one of them.
And as for me, the Bar Mitzvah Boy, well I’m just going to keep on keepin’ on. No time to rest on my laurels. Opening Day of Summer 2013 is just 309 days away.