By Lisa David
One of the most popular songs sung here at Harlam is Summertime Forever, a long-ago Maccabiah (Color War) alma mater, which has become a favorite at song session, campfires, and more. A line which seems to capture the unique quality of how time moves at camp states that, here at Harlam, “the days are weeks and each hour is a day.” Time does just feel different here: we pack each moment so full of experiences, emotions, and connections that at the end of a day, it feels that you have grown and learned and have been so deeply impacted by what you have experienced that it’s hard to believe only hours have gone by.
And so it is with just the first few days of the session. While you may have dropped off your children just a fews days ago, already they may have experienced our all-camp opening pep rally, free swim, bunk bonding, arts electives, sports, a ruach (spirit)-filled song session, Jewish learning, s’morning meeting, their first rendition of the Announcements song (when a group leader accidentally uses that word, a 5-minute song commences), Yellow Meal (a Harlam favorite – chicken patties, corn, and mashed potatoes), and beautiful expansive skies filled with bright stars. And, as importantly, they may have already made new lifelong friends, tried something entirely new for the first time, taken on a new responsibility that helped them establish independence, or pushed through a challenge that has deepened their skills of resilience.
Having the privilege of seeing transformations occur in real time is something that, 15+ years into my career, still fills me with awe. Take for example one new camper whose family we worked with for weeks to prepare for their first time away from home for this long of a session. In advance of the summer, we discussed strategies, anticipating some difficulty with the transition and challenges connecting socially. And, as is typical for many kids, the first few hours were hard. This camper had to be coaxed out of his cabin to come to the all-camp pep rally that happens right after parents depart on Opening Day. He was inconsolable, in tears and refusing to move one inch, and it took the work of multiple staff members to eventually get him into the dining hall for lunch. Fast forward just a few hours to his unit’s opening night evening program, which consisted of a series of stations with various games. The staff were nervous as he approached the relay race station, having heard from his family that he might become anxious in a situation that required a lot of transitions, was high-energy, and was somewhat competitive. But those concerns melted away as he jumped right in, racing through the obstacles of “dizzy bat” and high-fiving his teammates as he finished the course. From that point on, he settled in, and his counselor shared an anecdote with me where he was in the garden with his bunk and they were all calling him over by name to show him their discoveries, as they knew he enjoyed nature. This transformation happened in a little under 24 hours.
And similar transformations are happening all over camp, as the session begins and as “camp time” kicks in. These transformations are especially accelerated for those experiencing camp for the first time, and that is particularly true for our campers who come each summer from Israel. Traveling far from home to an unfamiliar culture and experience, they enter our community prepared for a fun summer and quickly learn what it feels like to be welcomed home. In the words of Shalev, one of our campers from Israel: “When I first arrived at camp in the morning, the other campers started to come. I was surprised that they were so friendly, even on the first day. They were interested in getting to know me and asked questions like: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Do you miss home?’ and ‘Do you play any sports?’ Because of this I was able to find friends. I’ve played basketball with my bunk and had friendly fights in the bunk at night. Everything was so fun and I went to bed on the first night with a big smile on my face”.
And now, we conclude the celebration of our first Shabbat of the session, where for 24 hours we slow down “camp time” and enter “Jewish time.” Really, that transition is seamless, as we essentially are always living in Jewish time here – marking moments with blessings, like when we bless our food before and after each meal or give thanks for our day during Siyum L’Yom (the ritual of singing the Shema and Hashkiveinu blessings that end each day here), and integrating Jewish content and context into all that we do. But Shabbat , when experienced in this immersive environment, feels sacred and special and apart from our week. We’ve been able to stop and reflect, and celebrate the joy of being Jewish and the connections so quickly built between us in this kehillah kedosha (holy community). And as we celebrate Havdalah (the conclusion of Shabbat) tonight, singing together under the stars, a new week begins with moment upon moment of meaning, and opportunity after opportunity for connection.
Thankfully, there is so much time left to build memories together this summer. I look forward to sharing more stories with you as the session unfolds, and as we grow, learn, connect, and celebrate together.
Shavuah Tov (Have a Good Week)!
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.