By Lisa David
As our session continues and our campers continue to create and collect memories with an eye towards their upcoming departure, I too am thinking about what they bring home after a summer at Harlam. Our mission talks about providing much more than a fun summer, emphasizing that the immersive environment and intense experience is meant to build a foundation that lasts far beyond time spent in Kunkletown. Relationships built here are meant to endure, skills gained here are to be applied elsewhere, and the joy of Judaism discovered here is meant to provide meaning, fulfillment, and purpose as they continue to cultivate and nurture their Jewish identities outside of camp.
A few recent experiences I’ve had here at camp emphasize some of the key things our campers are experiencing here and how they might integrate this experience into life beyond camp:
Jacob, an Arava camper, trailed me during meals in our Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall), trying to arrange a meeting. I was encouraging and curious, and each time said I’d be glad to sit with him, to which he responded that he just needed more time. Finally, this week, we were able to sit together at a table at Fendrick Commons, where he unveiled his plans for a Camp Harlam miniature golf course. Complete with 10 holes (the first hole is a practice hole for those new to the sport), each representing one element of camp, he had a cleverly designed and color-coded map. The attention to detail was remarkable, and my favorite hole was the one designed around a miniature Chapel on the Hill, oriented on our site at just the right angle so that a player can aim towards the miniature Chapel while seeing the real thing on the horizon beyond it.
Jacob’s creativity and enthusiasm are an embodiment of the sense of empowerment that kids can feel here. As they lead services, or song session, or evening programs, Harlam is a place that takes kids seriously. As much as their staff and the professionals who run camp, this place is theirs, and they are responsible for the culture and experiences we create here. Week after week I have the privilege of celebrating Shabbat with our Director for the Day, a camper selected for their kind deeds and positive contributions to the community. And each week as we walk around collecting ideas from our community members as to how to make camp better, I’m amazed at how innovative our campers are, how they “get” what we are trying to do and feel comfortable and excited thinking about how they can contribute. This sense of empowerment can build confidence and help them see themselves as contributors to and leaders of communities outside of the summer.
Also, this week, I received the following email from a manager at the miniature golf course that our Chavurah campers visited during their trip to Boston (miniature golf – a theme!):
“I wanted to tell you that your campers and camp staff were amazing. We have had many groups over the 25 years we have been open, and NONE were as behaved as this group. It was nice to see all the kids happy and smiling and having a great time. Thanks again, Joslynn”
This was a group of 15-year-old campers, out in public and modeling respect, courtesy, and manners that we hope that they always exhibit. While I certainly cannot take credit for the years of great work you have done as parents to build these behaviors, I’m especially proud that when given the opportunity to represent the community of camp outside of our gates, they continued to model the behavior we reinforce and emphasize here.
Finally, last night our staff facilitated a conversation with one of our Kineret girls bunks about differences, and about how here at camp each person brings value to our community. The girls were able to be vulnerable in acknowledging what challenges them and showed pride and built confidence by sharing their strengths, as one by one each girl took the opportunity to reflect and share. It was a moving discussion, and afterwards one girl reflected that if she had done a similar exercise at home, she might only scratch the surface, sharing things like hobbies or interests, but that here at camp, because of the support, security, and relationships that exist, it seemed everyone felt comfortable going deeper – sharing things that are at the core of who they are. Each girl was validated, recognizing that they have something unique and special to offer, and that their strengths are noticed and appreciated.
While your kids undoubtedly continue to enjoy our program, the beautiful weather, the opportunity to be outdoors – rest assured that the impact of their time here goes far beyond fun and games. Empowerment, respectful behavior, and confidence – these are the real and important outcomes that we are aiming towards. I look forward to sharing more stories, and soon for you to hear them first-hand, of the ways in which Harlam has shaped your child and impacted them, for good.
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.