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A Camp Director Without A Camp

by Eytan Graubart
Director, URJ Harlam Day Camp

This was an incredible summer for me. Not only did I accept a new (and totally awesome) job, and move to Philadelphia from Richmond, VA, but I also got to spend the summer at Camp Harlam. I wasn’t a unit head, an assistant director, or on faculty. In fact, I didn’t have any “official” role at camp at all this summer at all, but if you asked me at any point during the summer “what do you do?” you would have gotten the same answer I have been giving for the last six years: “I am a camp director,” this summer I just didn’t have a camp.

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In the spring, right after I accepted the job as the first ever director of Harlam Day Camp, as I was preparing for the summer, I felt unsettled and lost. Summer was about to be here and I didn’t have a camp to run.  I kept telling myself that I would only be “homeless” for one summer and that next summer, when Harlam Day Camp is open, all would be back to normal. After all, a camp director without a camp is like a captain without a ship, a pilot without a plane or a coach without a team.  And although I was excited to get to know my Camp Harlam colleagues, spending a summer at camp and not really being a part of the experience was just going to make me feel worse. None the less, I knew that this was an important summer for me. This summer, in addition to everything that came along with opening a new camp, I would be living in Kunkletown, PA, where I needed to learn everything I could about Camp Harlam, a crucial step in opening Harlam Day Camp (and this would be my only shot to do it). I wanted to be able to experience enough of Camp Harlam to understand the culture and atmosphere so that I could try and bring it to a day camp but I had no idea what I was in for.

What I learned, what I saw and what I experienced this summer has already changed me, not just as a camp director but as a person. From my first night at camp all I felt was love. Everywhere I turned I saw dedicated, caring, smart, funny staff all of whom were anxious to talk to me about day camp. At every program I observed this summer I learned something, at every meal I had a meaningful conversations (I consider the times I laughed too hard to really eat to be meaningful), and during Shabbat I felt deeply connected to a community that I was just joining. In many ways it was like being a camper and falling in love with camp all over again. Sure, I got some work done (not nearly as much as I hoped), I helped out camp a bit and told a few camp fire stories too, but this was not the summer I was expecting….it was much, much better.

In weeks since camp ended and as the New Year starts, my focus has turned entirely on opening Harlam Day Camp and I have had just enough time to reflect on my summer at Camp Harlam to say this; every camp director has their “best summer” list. The memories of a few summers helps keep us motivated in the winter months and excited at the start of every season. My list just got a little longer. I can’t wait for next summer.

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