Camp is Life: My Inspiration, My Path to My Life Work as a Jewish Camp & Retreat Center Professional

The following is a tribute to the power of Camp, not just Jewish Camp, but Camp as an opportunity to create and live the ultimate life. During the weekend, I met an alumnus from the early 80’s whose daughter is a Geneva Glen lifer. Her daughter is also very active in NFTY. One of her closest Temple friends is a Camp Newman lifer. These two teens constantly tout the love of their camps and their commonalities: community, friendship, growth, values, discovering and celebrating best selves, value driven and spiritual.

 Monday, September 2nd, 2012. I just returned from an awe inspiring weekend at Geneva Glen Camps in Colorado, having attended their 90th year reunion. I had spent several years at Geneva Glen as a staff member in my late teens-early 20’s and had not returned in over 25 years. A week prior to flying out to Colorado, the directors, Ken and Nancy Atkinson called me and asked that I share a few words at a Sunday morning service. I shared the following, with hundreds of alumni, spanning almost a century of love and dedication to a special Camp and community:

I can’t believe I’m here. My name is Ruben Arquilevich and I was blessed to serve here on staff in the mid 1980’s, along with my brother, Gabriel Arquilevich. This morning, when I woke up and smelled the Geneva Glen (GG) air, it gave new meaning to the term “breathtaking” – it just took my breath away. Over 25 years ago, I wrote and read the following piece for a Vespers Tree Planting Ceremony:

 I am so happy to be here;

Thank you for letting my real life begin;

I am small now;

Be gentle with me and be aware of your step;

But I will grow…tall and strong.

I will grow from seeing feet land by my limbs, to dropping pine cones upon the earth you walk on;

I will see children running and playing and sometimes falling;

I will see you all grow;

Some will stay and some will leave;

Now you notice me, for I am young and new;

Later, it will be more difficult, for my features will resemble the other trees in the forest;

But try to remember, for with the memory is this magnificent moment, this glorious time

when we begin a new summer at Geneva Glen.

 In five years, the planting of this tree will have become the past and the past will have become the future (The past becomes the future was the summer theme; The 90th celebration’s theme, was Cherishing the Past, Seeding the Future).

 It is a great honor to return here to GG and share a few words.

 We are frequently told that you cannot come home again; but look at all of us here, “home again”. I know that for thousands of children and adults, generation’s worth, GG is home. It is not just a physical home, but an emotional and spiritual home, where many of us enjoyed some of life’s sweetest moments, received some great gifts and like the tree, experienced enormous growth. Some of the gifts that GG bestowed upon me:

 A unique and sacred experience with my brother Gabe.

 My career, my life work as a Camp professional, inspired by the love, encouragement and mentorship of Ken and Nancy. When I was in my early 20’s, I had completed my pre-med requirements and was considering careers in medicine, psychiatry, psychology, pediatrics, veterinary medicine, law, education, business and environmental advocacy. Ken and Nancy, picking up on my eclectic and myriad interests, centered around helping to create a better world, suggested Camp as a career. The lens through which I lead and serve Camp – the importance of “ritual and magic”, to empower and partner with staff and the community, to lead with nobility, intent and humility — were all shaped by Ken and Nancy’s leadership style and the culture of GG.

 Reconnection with my spiritual roots. Following my Bar Mitzvah, I followed the path of many of my peers and shunned “organized” Judaism that is until I met Ken and Nancy seven years later. We would discuss God and all things holy and sacred until the wee hours of the morning. They shared their identity as Christian Scientists and how grateful they were for Judaism as the foundation of their religion. They could not understand why I was not more knowledgeable, engaged, and appreciative of such a meaningful religion, culture and faith. They opened up my eyes, my heart and my soul to what was standing right in front of and inside of me. They inspired me to not only pursue a career in Camping but in Jewish Camping and to reengage with Judaism. I love sharing this story with colleagues and foundations around the country when they ask, “so how did you get into this line of work?”.

 Comfort for public speaking. When I arrived to GG, I could not stand up in front of a group larger than four without making myself sick… Ken handed me a microphone and had me lead numerous meals in front of several hundred kids and staff. That was my beginning for being able to address groups of thousands (though I’m still nervous 🙂 ).

 A vision; an ideal for life.

 Songs I sing to my children at bedtime.

 A place to lean upon when times are tough.

 Thank you GG for all of these gifts and others that you have and will continue to provide. Thank you Ken and Nancy, for leading with example, with such passion, heart, love; and for your friendship.

We all talk about special places, people, and communities in the world. I have traveled extensively and been part of numerous sacred communities – none are more special to me than Geneva Glen.

Ruben Arquilevich, Senior Director
URJ Camp Newman
Year-round Camp & Retreat Center
Inspiring a Love of Judaism

One Response to Camp is Life: My Inspiration, My Path to My Life Work as a Jewish Camp & Retreat Center Professional

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