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A Summer of Firsts

By Lisa David

Shabbat Shalom. OK, give me a minute. I just need to look around and soak this in. Feel free to do the same. Take a look around you, see the faces and the beauty that surround you. It’s the first Shabbat of the summer. The first time our community has gathered together, in white, to pause, take a deep breath, and enjoy the community and setting we are so blessed to be a part of.

I continue to be amazed by the way in which Jewish ritual has a way of lifting up everyday moments and making them holy. At the end of a long day at camp, we could simply say goodnight. Instead, here at Harlam, we wrap our arms around one another, gaze up at the stars in the sky, and sing together the Shema and Hashkiveinu, in which we pray to be able to lie down in peace at night and return to life the next day. Another such ritual, which lifts up a moment in time to make it holy, is when we recite or sing the Shehecheyanu – the blessing we recite the first time that you do something, to give thanks for being able to reach that moment in time, and to mark the moment as full of joy.

This summer, each of us has the opportunity to do something new, to try to accomplish something for the very first time. For some of us, that will be the first time you see the beauty of a shooting star in the dark night sky. For some it will be a first time you gather the courage to climb the tower or ride the zip line. There will be the first time the sky opens up and rain begins to fall and you are stuck, laughing and soaking wet, inside a building when the lights go off. There will be your first letter from home, your first entirely cold shower, the first firefly that lands on your arm during an evening program. And because we are here, and because it is camp, these moments, good or bad, will help shape you. You will learn and you will grow, and you will become the best version of yourself because here, at Harlam, you filled your summer with firsts. And, here at Harlam, where we celebrate that Judaism has the power to lift up these moments and make them holy, you will experience these as Shehecheyanu moments. Moments where you lose your breath because each second just feels so full of meaning, and so important, and so incredibly special.

For me, this is certainly a summer of firsts. This week already has been filled with my first opening day as the new director of camp, my first opportunity to address camp at our opening pep rally, and my first time almost being kidnapped. Don’t worry, that was just a Galil evening program. There are a few firsts for me this summer, however, that hold special meaning. If you had not heard or noticed, I have the honor of being named the first female director of Camp Harlam. To be a woman who has been empowered to lead such an incredible organization, with a storied history, many generations of stakeholders, and so many opportunities and complexities, is humbling and makes me incredibly proud. Just over a week ago I was surprised by the female Leadership Team members who had created a ritual – a Jewish ritual – that celebrated this first. To hear from these incredible leaders that I serve as a female role model, and to sing Shehecheyanu with our arms around one another, validated all of the effort I have put in, all of the long hours away from my own family, and how lucky I am to work with such incredibly strong young women. As I told them, it’s actually the PRESENT that is female, and that this moment in Harlam’s history would not have been possible without so many strong women, and allies, who have been the first to do great things, and who have come before me to help make this first a reality.

I am also the first alumni to be the Director of Camp Harlam. To have grown up as a camper, with Arie Gluck as my Camp Director, a larger-than-life figure who literally built Harlam into the place it remains today – it is remarkable to me that I have the privilege to follow his footsteps. For all of you here for your first summer, I recall my own first summer as an Arava camper, and my own first Shabbat, first friendship, first kiss, and many other firsts that led me here. I recall being a cabin counselor 20 years ago, being overwhelmed during those first few days as I learned how to connect with kids, how to be a confident leader, and being stretched by the challenges presented here. I recall the thrill of returning to camp as a professional staff member some 15 years later, and feeling so incredibly supported and inspired by Aaron, someone who brought his experience and love of camp to a new place and helped turn Harlam into the place I had always dreamed, as a camper and staff member, it might become.

I want this summer to be filled with firsts, Shehecheyanu moments, for each of you, too. Collect these moments. Seek them out. Take advantage of the open and safe world we have constructed here so that you can push yourself to try something new. Reach out to new people. Take risks you might not have imagined yourself taking before the summer began. Hold someone’s hand as you walk down the hill for the first time. Dance in circles while you sing a new song at the top of your lungs. Look up to find that first falling star. Because here, these moments are holy. Here, these moments are elevated. Here, your firsts, will be forever imprinted on your memory, and on your heart, and will undoubtedly help to create the best version of you. I feel so privileged to be here to encourage and witness these firsts, and look forward to celebrating them with all of you.

Shabbat Shalom.


Lisa David is the Director of Camp Harlam.

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