Ruben’s Reflections

Friday, May 3oth–URJ Camp Newman SummerUnknown

We ushered in our summer season by welcoming the Sabbath bride.  Full time, senior leadership staff gathered under our sukkat shalom, shelter of peace, grape arbor to begin the sacred path of summer 2014.  We sang Hinei Ma Tov and recited the shehechyanu.   We passed around sentiments of welcome and blessings for having arrived to this season.  We reflected on our lives over the past year, how we had grown, been challenged, gained perspective, celebrated and grieved.  We connected all to Camp Newman and our holy work of inspiring a love of Judaism.  Thousands of tiny grapes draped a few feet above our heads, represent the campers, staff, faculty who soon will be under our care to cultivate, nurture and grow.  At summer’s end, these grapes are ripe and ready to be converted for Kiddush, allowing us to bless the fruits of our labor.

Saturday, May 31st – Shabbat Shalom

The Shoresh team, full time staff and summer senior leadership, spent the day celebrating Shabbat and reflecting on collective and individual roles.  We discussed the nature of the leadership team, known as Shoresh, which means roots.  Shoresh provides the foundation, support and enables the middle management team, known as Geza, to support the counselors and specialists (known as madrachim) who ultimately care and nurture our campers (chanachim).  Instead of a traditional organizational hierarchy, tending to be top down, we aspire to an inverted model of leadership, where those “higher” on the leadership level play the vital role of supporter and enabler.  Camp is like a small city. There are numerous “departments”, all that need to orchestrate together for the good of all – program, staffing services, social services, health care, transportation, food service, buildings and grounds and more – all aligned for the benefit of our mission, our children, our community.  Shoresh wrapped up the day with Havdalah (the separation ritual between Shabbat and the rest of the week) and Siyum (nightly closing song, blessing to express gratitude and thank God for shelter).

Sunday, June 3rd – Measuring Success & Balancing Tradition with Innovation

Shoresh continued summer preparations, along with a vital discussion on how we measure success. How are we measured? What are the perspectives and guiding principles?  Sitting in a redwood grove, admiring the new growth on the trees, I took the opportunity to share my leadership philosophy around balancing tradition and innovation.   A tree is thriving if it has deep stable roots, access to water and nutrients  and is well grounded to the earth – this represents the sacred rituals, traditions, history of a community. For Camp Newman, these go back to 1947 and are constantly created annually.  One season’s rituals can become sacred.

A tree also requires new growth to thrive, representing growth, seeking, searching, striving.   Even mature trees, with ancient history, have an element of constant growth and change.  New ideas, innovation, seeking to be and do better is a hallmark of success. It represents a customer service approach – listening to our constituents and adapting to their perceptions and needs.  It represents the dreams and passions of staff and faculty to create a better camp, a better world.  We discussed this in the context of the various constituents we serve and being sensitive to various needs and expectations – the young camper, teen, young staff member, veteran staff member, faculty, parent, alum, donor, community leader — all have overlapping and varying areas of passion and interest.  We achieve success by listening, responding to all these valued messages, aligning them towards our mission of inspiring a love of Judaism.

Monday, June 2nd –  Understandings

I asked Shoresh to list the top three most important items to each of the segments of the camp community.  Here are some of the cursory remarks:photo

Young campers – Fun, emotional security
Teen campers – Friends, Fun, discovering and celebrating their best selves
Young staff – Friends, best selves, give back to their kids
Older staff –  Friends, community, personal/career growth
Faculty – friends, community, Jewish program outcomes, their congregational children’s success
Parents – fun, friends, community, Judaism, growth, a parent vacation
Directors – the fulfillment of our mission and pride in seeing our community’s needs fulfilled

Our sweet spot is Fun, Friends, Judaism and Best Self.  Our surveys, from campers, parents and staff, reflect our success as a camp.  As leaders, we are constantly challenged to “seek to understand” our various communities and what is important to them, for in responding to them, we best serve our children.  As leaders, we are challenged to check our egos at the door, and understand that it is not about our personal passions and interest, but about others’, in alignment with our mission,  that is critical.  Shoresh ended the day with t’filah (prayer) at our creek and by performing the ritual of Tashlich – we shared with each other what we want to leave behind and what we want to carry forward.

Friday, June 6th – Our Best Selves

 Rabbi Erin Mason, Camp Newman Director, opened the evening by reciting the gorgeous poem below, by Israeli poet, Zelda. The poem speaks to the many names and identities we are given through our lives.  We are given a name upon our birth and then we spend a lifetime living it, refining it, accepting or rejecting it and everything in between.  Erin presented this poem (below) as a tone setter to the evening program – our brit avodah, our covenant as a summer senior leadership community. About 30 of us shared the origins of our names and what names we were aspiring to become – in terms of how we are perceived by others. It was a beautiful session and reaffirmed one of Camp Newman’s golden outcomes – the ability to discover and celebrate your best self.  Sitting around the campfire, we shared with each other our visions of our best selves and how we can support each other to achieve a shared purpose –inspiring a love of Judaism.  Over and over again, kids, staff, faculty reflect on camp as the place where they can be their best selves. As we prepare to usher in Shabbat, I am reminded of the idea that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come, an ideal world – And that Camp is like the Shabbat of the year, where we can taste this ideal world and live, celebrate our best selves.

Shabbat Shalom, Ruben


Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents

Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear

Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls

Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors

Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing

Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love

Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work

Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness

Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.

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