By Jon Schulman
My birthday is on January 13th and almost every year I celebrate it the same way. I am very used to having a Carvel ice cream cake and being serenaded by my four nieces and nephews. I usually spend my birthday doing what I want to do and if it falls on a weekend in usually involves watching football. However, this past year was very different. I did not celebrate with my wife or with my family. I did not even watch any football and believe it or not I did not have any Carvel ice cream cake. This past year I celebrated my 35th birthday in a much different way in a very different place.
On January 12th I flew into Mexico City and was driven about 2 hours to the town of Puebla where the next day I got to meet and interview many eager Mexican students who wanted to come work at a summer camp. On the night before the hiring fair we had a nice dinner and we got to experience Mexican culture before going to bed so we could be fully rested for the next day, that was sure to be busy. The next morning as the elevator opened we were greeted with almost 200 Mexican college students who were eager to meet the many camps that had come to the fair. I walked into the room where the fair was, and I was serenaded with the singing of “Happy Birthday” and was given a beautiful cake. I was surprised at the wonderful gesture and my birthday was off to a great start.
The next few hours were filled with interview after interview with young, eager and excited students who were trying to convince me that they should come work at Camp Harlam. After the hiring fair was over I was tired from all the talking and laughing I did but I was also very fulfilled that I had this experience. I flew home the next day with eight new Harlam staff members and an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I had this experience. My 35th birthday was one I would never forget.
A few weeks later I was back in the airport but this time I was heading to Central Europe to finish our support staff hiring for the summer. I spent the week in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary interviewing and hiring more college students to work at Harlam. Again, I was met with excited and eager students who wanted nothing more to come work at a summer camp in the US. After 5 days and 3 countries I came home very fulfilled and with eighteen new Harlam staff members.
On the long flight home, in between naps I thought about how fortunate I was to have had these experiences but also how fortunate our community is to have exposure to such unique individuals and their beautiful cultures. Sadly, we are living in a time where too often people are chastised for being different which makes communities like ours even more important. This summer we have staff from Australia, the United States, Mexico, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, England, Ireland, Scotland and Israel. How lucky are we that we get to meet people from all over the world and learn about their unique cultures? I can still remember my Sharon counselor Sergey, who was from Russia and my Galil counselor, Duncan from England. My experiences with them as a Harlam camper has forever impacted my Harlam story. I hope your Harlam stories are filled with pages of stories of your interactions with staff from all over the world that you have met and will continue to meet as a Harlam camper. These relationships are one that should be cherished and celebrated forever. And, when you are celebrating these moments I suggest doing it with a nice cold piece of Carvel ice cream cake. You will not regret it! Shabbat Shalom!
Jon Schulman is the Operations Director at Camp Harlam. It his 18th summer at camp. During the year he lives with his Wife, Ellie (Assistant Director at Camp Harlam) in Philadelphia.