By Shira Zemel, Harlam Alumna and Educator at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD
In Ecclesiastes we read, “For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven” (3:1). For camp, the season is summer, and Harlam’s purpose of creating a thick community of friendships, laughter and Judaism is currently flourishing up in Kunkletown. This past Fourth of July, I had the honor of visiting the campers we have sent from Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD, as well as my brother and sister who are on staff and many other camp friends. It was awesome to see camp in action: kids singing and laughing together in the pool, the senior camp villages coming together for t’filah, (all) the camp directors grilling burgers and hot dogs for everyone to enjoy at an outdoor barbeque together…I could go on and on about the wonderful things I saw taking place at camp, but simply put: Camp Harlam is the best, and 2013 is already well on its way to being a 55th summer of which Joe and Betty would be extremely proud.
As a Jewish educator, a Harlam alumna (a Carmel camper when Carmel was in the K’far Village-“high up in the hillage”), and having just married my camp sweetheart, I can say with certainty what the Foundation For Jewish Camp determined in their study*: Jewish overnight camp has a long-term influence on campers’ Jewish identities. According to the study, as adults, former Jewish campers are more likely to cite being Jewish as “very important” to them, more likely to light Shabbat candles, more likely to marry Jewish and more likely to feel an emotional attachment to Israel. But this isn’t the only reason to support Harlam and Jewish camping: we–myself, my camp friends, my siblings– are the people we are today because of the positive life-lasting friendships we made, the counselors we admired, the independence we gained and the leadership skills we cultivated. In other words, there is no better gift we can give our children.
We know from the renowned psychologist and education theorist Lev Vygotsky that learning is a social endeavor. True learning can only happen in socially meaningful contexts: “Every function in the child’s development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological)…All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals” (p. 57). As an educator, I believe this with every ounce of my being: it’s all about relationships; it’s all about being social. That’s not the “fluff”—it’s the stuff that is going to allow for what Vygotsky terms “higher functioning”. In this respect, camp has everything going for it. If you don’t understand that more is happening for a child’s learning and development (both Jewish and otherwise) in that soccer game at Rec. Athletics against Sharon Girls 2 or that conversation outside the Chader Ochel before lunch—then I’m sorry to say, you just don’t get it.
Ecclesiastes tells us that for everything there is a season and I echo the words of Larry Milder: “bring the summer right back to me”. Happy 55th Anniversary, Camp Harlam! Thank you for all you have given us.