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Merging Legacy and Innovation

By Lisa David, Camp Director

If you have spent any time at Harlam, you’ve likely engaged in the age-old debate about the “best spot in camp”. Some are partial to the view from the Rosa B. Eisendrath Chapel on the Hill, where you can look down on a breathtaking panorama of our world at camp, nestled in the hills and seemingly distant from the world outside. Some would say it’s the Chavurah village, its willow trees and clusters of kids set apart from Main Camp by a physical distance but also a spirit of freedom and independence.  The place that comes to my mind is the Chapel in the Woods, and specifically the view looking up through the trees, branches, and leaves into the blue sky on a sunny Saturday morning, surrounded by the voices of our campers and staff, all of it blending into a little cocoon that is a warm, safe, sacred space. It’s amazing to me that on a Saturday morning when we gather there together, it can become a place filled with loud, joyful song, but also contemplative and restorative silence.

Chapel in the Woods has taken on new meaning to me over the past year, as through the generosity of our community and in honor of our 60th anniversary, we were able to renovate and dedicate that space in honor of Arie Gluck. It has come to embody a core principle that guides our work at Harlam right now: the merging of legacy and innovation. We took what was sacred and special about that physical space and with love and great care, we elevated it. We kept the unique qualities that make it special – don’t get me started on the debate over the tree in the center of the sanctuary – and added color and comfort, and strengthened the foundation so that we could continue to create meaningful experiences there.

The idea of merging legacy and innovation is something that I feel deeply and personally. Often my camp friends ask me what has changed at camp and I try to explain that we’ve tried to take what always made Harlam special and update it – move it forward, for today’s kids and future generations. I think about our efforts to create an Open and Safe community – to include LGBTQ campers and staff, campers and staff with disabilities, and our interfaith families, and how that is guided by the same values of community and connection that motivated Arie to bring Israeli campers and staff to camp, in an effort to open our eyes to a more global Jewish community. I think about our efforts to refresh and expand our program offerings – adding Artists-in-Residence, establishing new activities like our farm, garden, “Fun Period,” and new teaching kitchen, and creating rituals like Siyum L’yom or S’morning Meeting as a way to create community – and how this is an outgrowth of Arie’s legacy to offer, or build, something new each year that ensured we remained active and engaged. And I think about the evolution of Jewish life and learning at camp. While the methodology may be more experiential, and the tunes may be somewhat different, it remains full of joy, based on our values, and the underpinning of all that we do.

None of this would be possible without the vision, passion, and support of our stakeholders, including all of the contributors and leaders of our Harlam@60 efforts. Their deep connection to their own history at Harlam and their passion for moving us forward has helped ensure we continue to lead the field far into the future.  I feel privileged to have an opportunity to steward this beloved institution – to honor and be inspired by its past, and to bring a fresh perspective to advance and sustain it, in partnership with so many others.

These remarks were delivered to members of our 1958 Club (to support the Harlam@60 anniversary efforts) during a special dinner at Zahav in Philadelphia, PA on February 10, 2019.

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