By Rabbi Ben David
Lisa and I met at URJ Camp Harlam when we were both 11 years old. The world was a different place in 1988 and so was Camp Harlam. There were different faces, a different schedule, the clothes were certainly different, as was the food. We were both, like so many other kids, unsure, maybe a bit shy, perpetually in search of our place in the world. I would like to believe that, even that summer, as young as we were, we began to find ourselves at camp. It was a place where I, a scrawny, fairly un-athletic rabbi’s kid from South Jersey, could connect with kids in ways that were real, and connect with a type of Judaism that resonated.
Lisa and I grew together over the years, as we came back to camp summer after summer. We were growing up and camp was forever becoming more a part of who we were, and how we saw ourselves. Camp was actually the one constant. There was familiarity and comfort in the music, the feel of Shabbat, even the smell of the grass. We became teenagers and life could occasionally bring bumps and challenges. Growing up isn’t always easy, but camp became a place that was empowering and so affirming. We were in Chavurah together. We went on the Israel trip together. We were CITs, counselors, and supervisors together. She ran the CIT program; I ran adventure.
There was a decade-long hiatus from camp at the next point in our life. We were living in New York. I was an associate rabbi in Long Island; she worked with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). We had gotten married and started a family, with our daughter Noa arriving in October of 2007. Right away we imagined the day she would become a clear-eyed, big-hearted Carmel camper. Who might she meet at camp? What outlet would she find there? Next came our two boys, first Elijah in 2010, then Samuel in September of 2012. We moved back to New Jersey and Lisa joined the Harlam professional team, which brought such joy and fulfillment to her, and to us, from minute one. The hiatus was officially over.
Now it’s 2017. Lisa is the director of camp. I am the senior rabbi of Adath Emanu-El. Every year I have the great honor of serving on rabbinic faculty for two weeks at the end of second session. So much has changed, for us, for our family and, yes, for camp. So much has changed in the world of education and technology and medicine and politics. So much looks so different. But not the feeling of camp. Not the soul of camp. Not the way camp brings out the best in us, in all of us.
As we approach 60 years, I thank God for all that camp has meant to me and my family. We all owe so much to the many who came before us and created the place we have come to love so fully. I pledge to do my part to continue to make camp the wondrous and mystifying place it can be for future generations of Harlamites.
On Sunday, August 13, we’ll recognize the many couples who met at Camp Harlam as part of Alumni Day and our year-long celebration for Harlam’s 60th anniversary. Details will be shared soon on the Harlam@60 website.