“Thank you, URJ Harlam Day Camp, for giving my child the chance to be part of a real Jewish community with great friends, awesome staff, and a commitment to the values that we believe in as a Jewish family. Without this last summer at HDC, I don’t think that our son would be the person that we can see him growing up to be.” – HDC Parent | Philadelphia, PA
When Harlam Day Camp (HDC) opened in 2014 as the first community-based, Union for Reform Judaism-affiliated, day camp in North America, Harlam’s leaders quickly started to hear these sorts of platitudes. Over the next four seasons, many got to see first-hand the realization of the URJ’s vision to provide a unique, immersive Reform Jewish experience in the tradition of Camp Harlam. During that time, HDC welcomed 375 campers and 100 staff members – along with 300 families – to hear campers laughing, watch them playing, and see them developing friendships and lifelong memories. HDC also sought to be another connection to Judaism for families, to extend the reach of Harlam and its partner URJ congregations throughout the region, and to even engage staff members who would now have an outlet for their desire to lead and impact others. In four years, HDC allowed these goals – and much more – to be realized, including during the just-completed 2017 season.
It’s because of this success in serving the community on the beautiful campus of Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy since 2014 that the announcement of HDC’s closing is so difficult to share. HDC was a bold experiment that was initiated and supported generously by the Union for Judaism and Camp Harlam, but despite the pride that so many have in what has been accomplished, the decision was made to sunset the program.
This decision was hard for the URJ and Harlam leadership. And it was also in no way a reflection of the camp’s recent summer, which was truly remarkable. In fact, the extraordinary devotion to the program by HDC’s amazing staff and leadership and the commitment of its families this past summer were more evidence of success. However, the need to see the program grow and become sustainable was also a preeminent goal for the URJ and Harlam when HDC began as a “start-up.” Despite the hard work of the entire Harlam team and the commitment to this effort, the determination was made that HDC should not continue at its current trajectory.
Lisa Kane, HDC’s Camp Director in 2017 – and her predecessor, Eytan Graubart – were exceptional partners and poured their heart and souls into the development of this program. Lisa and her team (with shout-outs to HDC leaders in 2017, Lauren “Biebs” Hallenbeck and Jenn Reiss) created another wonderful summer of meaningful and intentional Reform Jewish life each day, and the dedication and care by the entire staff was a hallmark for four years. Aaron Selkow, Harlam’s Executive Director, shared, “There have been so many incredible and tangible things that have come from this effort. Obviously, nothing has been more special than seeing the celebration of Reform Jewish life and the deep and meaningful connections between our campers as well as their families. But the staff – those trailblazers that curated and recreated a Harlam-style experience for a brand-new community in Greater Philadelphia – showed us what is possible when you give people the chance to go out and try something new.”
Lisa Kane will be assisting Aaron and others with the work of this sun-setting process, and then Lisa will be moving on to her next professional opportunity.
More outreach will come from Harlam, and with that the opportunity to celebrate HDC and the people who have made it such a special place. Harlam’s leaders – including Camp Harlam’s Director, Lisa David – are deeply appreciative of the contributions of so many who helped seed and nurture the growth of this first-ever foray for the URJ and Harlam into Jewish day camp. There is a hope that this will not be Harlam’s last effort of this kind.
For more information, please feel free to contact Aaron Selkow at ASelkow@URJ.org.