By Lisa David
Dear Harlam Families,
As the session’s end draws near, we continue to collect a lot of “lasts.” Just as at the start of the session, our campers and staff joyfully jump into new experiences, as they celebrate the first Shabbat, enjoy a refreshing first dip in the lake, or spy their first shooting star, as we enjoy our final days of the session, they are singing their hearts out at their last song session, reflecting on their week at their last Shabbat sicha (discussion) time with their bunk, and extinguishing their last Havdalah candle of the session. These moments are bittersweet – while they are elated to be returning home for reunions with family and friends (and beloved pets!), and are looking forward to the special non-camp food meals you will enjoy together and the comfort of their own bed, they also are trying to savor every connection and moment of joy their time at camp has brought to them.
Throughout the session, our Chavurah (entering 10th grade) campers, in partnership with our Jewish Life staff and faculty, have studied and discussed the concepts of having a “good name.” They explored and discussed the following text:
Rabbi Shimon said, “There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. However, the crown of a good name is greater than all of them.” (Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Forebears) 4:13)
The conversation evolved to touch on subjects like legacy and reputation. They talked about how, exactly, one acquires a “good name,” how we talk about others, what is meant by a “reputation,” and how they wanted to approach developing their own individual and collective reputation as the oldest campers at Harlam. Together they created a visual reminder, with post-it notes added throughout the summer, to inspire campers and staff to always be conscious of their reputation.
And as a group, they determined that the legacy that they hoped to leave here as they conclude their last camper year was one that was positive and constructive, and that showed their love and respect for camp. As a unit, they helped beautify the New Beit Amphitheater and enhanced it as a program and worship space by painting the benches in bright Harlam colors. This enhancement of camp will help them to be remembered as a group who chose to build camp up, to contribute in a positive way, and will be a reminder whenever they return of their last year as campers. When our campers choose to do good in this way, they strengthen their good name. Our Chavurah campers, the oldest in camp, modeled for others what Harlam is all about – a sacred and caring community.
I believe and hope that every camper, in every unit, has created a “good name” here. Each will return home with stories of how they helped others, how they have integrated Harlam’s middot (character traits), and all they have learned. Though we may right now be experiencing the “lasts” of the session, their good name will endure and hopefully translate to life at home. We know that this transition may be difficult at times. Translating their experiences here to others outside of this “bubble” may be challenging, but we want you, too, to feel a part of our extended family. To that end, we wanted to share that being a part of the Harlam family means returning home with:
- Stories: So many stories about people you don’t know and words you might not have heard before, like Siyum L’Yom (Closing of the Day ritual) or S’morning Camp Harlam (our daily opening all-camp program). A great way to learn more about camp is to sign on to your account and let your camper give you a tour through the photos we took all summer.
- Silence: It’s typical for kids to still be processing their own experience. We’ve put together some prompts for discussion, but your camper may need some time to catch up on sleep, arrange their own thoughts, and then be able to share what they experienced.
- Coughs and Sniffles: We are proud to have an amazing medical team, and though our doctors and nurses have been monitoring our children for illnesses, sometimes the combination of close living quarters, long days, and less sleep leaves their immune systems a bit weaker.
- Dirt (and maybe someone else’s sock): Our campers seem to be determined to take a little bit of camp home with them! While we do our best to assist them with packing their belongings, we know that the wear and tear of a few weeks of living with others may mean items are a bit messier than you left them. We encourage you to visit the lost and found on Closing Day to be sure you find any items that may have wandered during the session.
- Maturity and Responsibility: Your camper has spent the last 3.5 weeks learning to clean up after themselves, eat communal meals, solve problems, and generally pitch in to get a job done. Give your child a chance to show off by stepping back a bit and letting them sort out their own laundry, help get dinner on the table, and manage conflict with their siblings.
- New Relationships: Being a part of this immersive experience creates bonds like none other. As we like to say, Harlam is where “friends become family.” Your children will have made new friends and also may have struggled at times to connect with others. All of these are valuable opportunities for learning, and we hope the positive relationships they created can be sustained beyond their time at camp.
- Jewish Ritual and Wisdom: Harlam is an immersive Jewish experience, where kids live Jewishly 24/7. Our hope is that the lessons learned, the vocabulary, and the middot (character traits) built here are brought home and shared. We encourage our kids to continue the camp traditions that are meaningful to them once they return home, so ask your child about the songs they sing or the blessings they may have learned.
Harlam is a safe place for exploration, a place that offers lots of opportunities, where success is celebrated and failure can also be celebrated as a chance to learn. It is a family, and I thank your family for joining ours. I look forward to seeing many of you tomorrow and watching as you reunite with your children. I look forward to hearing stories about the good name that they have created here, and how they are bringing it home with them. Thank you for sharing them with us, and for allowing us to grow with them as well.
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.