Written by Lauren Schwartz
Each summer, campers return to camp a year older, a year more mature, and a year more connected to a community that is so much more than a summer experience. Spending the school year away from camp often strengthens a camper’s connection to this holy community. It is not until campers return home that they begin to reflect and interpret their experiences at camp. For some campers, it is not until they realize they do “camp shtick,” they sing shira songs or shout their unit cheers during the year that they really see the impact this experience has had on them as individuals and in their everyday lives. For campers, Kalsman is not just home during the summer; Kalsman is also home during the school year in the way that campers carry the spirit of camp wherever they go.
During the last couple days of each session, we begin to report the “lasts”—the last siyum, t’filah, or chug, the last Shabbat, and the last song sessions. We feel the need to report the “lasts” not in order to make campers feel sad—but to highlight those last meaningful moments at camp before we leave this holy community.
What campers may not realize, however, is that while the last song sessions, last Shabbats, last chugs, and last t’filah wrap up the session, they instill campers with the confidence to carry camp in their hearts wherever they are. When campers return to their families and Jewish communities, they uphold the ruach and values of this kehillah kedoshah.
We structure our last days of camp to make them as fun and impactful as possible, reminding campers that we can’t wait for them to come home to Kalsman again. Last night we had our closing night banquet, a themed dinner followed by a song session with the session’s top rated songs. The theme was Kalsman Superheroes. Staff dressed up in capes and crazy costumes to help say Shalom to our Kallah Gimmel campers. We decorated the Chadar Ochel (dining hall) with themed posters. One in particular caught campers’ attention. It read: Wherever you roam, Kalsman is home.
When it came time for today’s closing circle, it was evident in the laughter, smiles, and tears that this place is so much more than a summer experience. The emotions experienced at camp get interpreted and internalized in ways only the individual camper can understand. Perhaps the meaning of camp is spiritual and personal, perhaps it simply means they smile the next time they attend services and recognize a tune from camp.
Our final closing day reminds me of the emotions that go along with leaving camp and returning home to family, friends and routine. While each camper’s emotions vary widely, one thing is certain: campers will always remember the special sense of community, Kehillah Kedoshah, which we experience so powerfully at camp.
Spending 1, 2 or 3 weeks at Camp Kalsman gives campers and staff a magical sense of community that comes with spending time at camp—meeting new people, trying new things, understanding our Jewish identities, and developing a stronger sense of who we are in this world.
So as we say L’hitraot to the new and returning campers who impacted our Kehillah Kedoshah during our seventh incredible summer, we say shalom knowing campers will carry the spirit of the “lasts” into their everyday lives after returning from their summer at Camp Kalsman, their home and Kehillah Kedoshah.