This D’var Torah was initially shared with the members of our Camp Council at our recent quarterly meeting.
By Dan Fuchs
This week’s portion comes from the Book of Exodus. B’shalach – literally translated “when he let go” – when Pharaoh let the Israelites go and they began their journey to the Promised Land – a beginning that was full of doubts of a people who had been enslaved and now were free to begin a new path.
The Israelites had a new beginning, with all of the emotions that come with it – the happiness that comes with freedom, the excitement of the opportunities that lie ahead, the self-doubt of can I make it, the questions of how will my basic needs be met.
These are the same emotions when graduating high school or college… or beginning a new job…or moving to a new city…OR the start of a new summer at Camp.
Camp – full of new beginnings. For returning campers, each summer is a chance to start over with old and new friends, to build on previous experiences and take them in new directions. For new campers, it is truly a fresh experience in new surrounds, with new (soon-to-be) lifelong friends…learning new traditions that will forever take you back to simpler days and nights in a place that eternally changes your being…discovering more about yourself and your Judaism in one or two months than seems possible.
For parents, each summer is an opportunity to provide your children with a new setting that rekindles old friendships, that allows them to self-identify in an inclusive and safe environment, that provides a place in which to grow their Jewish identity that becomes part of the fiber of their future.
For staff, each summer brings with it a fresh opportunity to teach and learn and grow with a new group of kids. To renew and grow old friendships, some of which started at camp many years before. To make new connections that will turn into new friendships and, in many cases, lifelong partners.
But camp is not just about summers. Campers have the opportunities to continue and grow their relationships and learning throughout the year at reunions, other youth programming, and leadership training.
For the Professional Staff, camp is a year-long cycle that spans from the end of second session one year to the end of second session the next year. With the beginning of each new cycle come the emotions and aspirations of any new journey – What lies ahead? What can we do better? How can we be more inclusive? Why will next summer be the greatest summer that camp has ever had? When will we reach 100% enrollment? Who will help us get through the year and all that needs to be done?
For Camp Harlam, our journey began 60 years ago. Unlike the Israelites, we have not had to wander through the desert as we have been fortunate to have a home in Kunkletown, PA. But we have had to navigate and evolve. Throughout camp’s 60 years, there has been one great constant – the Harlam community – filled with alumni, campers, parents, and supportive organizations. And in some form or fashion, there has been a group of dedicated, selfless volunteers who have given their time, their expertise and, more recently, their money, to the betterment of camp. What started out as a Camp Committee has evolved into today’s Camp Council. In addition to those formally on the Council, there is a dedicated group of lay leaders that also support the needs of camp.
While the specific structure and role of the Camp Council has, and continues to, evolve, there is one role that is necessary for us to provide the most support that we can – to be engaged. Engaged in our support of Pro Staff. Engaged in events and activities surrounding Harlam@60. Engaged in our communities to look for opportunities to spread Harlam’s name. Engaged in development so that the current and future financial needs of camp are met. Engaged in whatever comes next.
If we are successfully engaged, our work – our journey – as a Council will be endless. While we must enjoy what Camp Harlam is – a string of summers that gives rise to a lifetime of memories, friendships, and Judaism – we must never forget that our obligation is to help camp get to its next 60th anniversary. Which means that for us, the planning starts today.
Dan Fuchs is the current Chair of the Camp Council and a camp parent. Dan’s first summer at Harlam was 1968, when his dad was on staff as a Camp Rabbi. He has been a camper, counselor, and unit head, with his last summer being in 1991.