By Lisa David
This week was filled with many highlights at camp – long, sunny days, a festive 4th of July carnival and celebration, swimming in our newly renovated Z-Pool, bunk nights, Inter-camp Games with Pinemere, and much, much more. Each day is filled with new experiences, new friendships, as well as returning to favorite activities and comfortable routines. What stands out for me, however, was the first moment when our entire camp community gathered in our newly renovated Chapel on the Hill, on Thursday night, to celebrate together the rededication of that sacred sanctuary.
Our Torah was paraded into the space by representatives from every unit in camp, and a group of seven campers and staff, representing our youngest campers and staff with the longest tenure, as well as multi-generational and new campers, circled the sanctuary in a symbolic and beautiful ritual that emulated the seven circles of the bride and groom at a wedding or the seven times a Torah is paraded through a sanctuary on Simchat Torah (when we celebrate the conclusion of reading all of the books of the Torah each year).
Below are the words I shared with our community, as we sat together and gazed through the chapel structure on camp below and the mountains beyond. It’s a breathtaking view and it was a moving and beautiful celebration. I hope that these reflections help you to feel the sense of security, comfort, and joy your campers will experience in that space throughout this summer and beyond.
Looking around, it’s easy to be moved by the beauty of this space. Being able to look down on all of camp, as well as the horizon beyond it, reinforces both how expansive and beautiful our community is, and how lucky we are to be tucked into the mountains so we can enjoy the views. In truth, people have been taking in this very view for six decades now and while our world may be changing all the time, this view represents a reliable constant, a kind of predictability in an otherwise unpredictable world. I would also say that this view has evoked the same deep meaning and feeling for people across many generations at this point, feelings of calm and perspective and gratitude. I know I am always so thankful to be able to take in this incredible place in all of its beauty.
As we have done with other renovations, like last year’s reconstruction of Chapel in the Woods, we try to take these sacred spaces and elevate them – retaining the best of what was, the detail and features we already love about each space, and adding a bit of shine, and a bit of comfort, and a bit more beauty. Just like other changes we make at camp, we try to honor our history and legacy, and merge that with innovation, to ensure Harlam remains successful far into the future. Similarly, Judaism itself offers us a perpetual blend of rich tradition and history, and our spiritual needs at this moment in time. The words of our Shabbat service, for example, have not changed but the melodies have. Song sessions might include the same basic songs but with new hand motions and new energy. But the one change that I love most about this space, that I think so simply demonstrates who we are at Harlam, is that now, everyone has a seat. There is room for all of us. There are no longer people smushed onto benches that squeeze others out, or people standing around the periphery unable to find a space that fits. There is a space for all of us to join the community, find comfort, and enjoy the beauty of Shabbat (or, the 4th of July!).
This idea resonates deeply with me, as Harlam has worked so hard to become a place where we all belong. Where we all can find a seat. Where we are all included. Where we can feel the warmth and comfort of a supportive arm around us. Where we can all find meaning and experience joy. Having grown up here at camp, I know that has not always been the case. I remember years past when campers did not return, perhaps because they felt they did not fit in, that they did not meet or see others like them, or that they were not interested in the same activities or music or hobbies as others.
I’m so proud to be part of the Harlam community, as we continue to find both a literal and metaphoric seat for those with diverse identities, backgrounds, and stories. I am proud that Harlam has offered seats to those across multiple ages and races and nationalities, modes of religious and spiritual belief and Jewish practice. It might be said that each bench here represents yet another group that has found a place within the Camp Harlam family.
Just as on this day we celebrate America and our freedom as Americans, and the obligation each of us has to make our country a true and welcoming home, at camp we continue to push ourselves to ensure everyone experiences true inclusion and acceptance. As our great nation has evolved across race and gender lines, so has camp continued to evolve to make sure everyone feels totally at home here, and that together we create an open and safe sanctuary for all.
Lisa David is serving in her third summer as Camp Harlam’s Director after 15 years as a professional in the field of Jewish Camping. She is a former Harlam camper and staff member, and a proud parent of 3 Harlam campers.