By Lori Zlotoff
During some Pro Staff time with Gesher recently, I was told by a Gesher participant that now that he is working directly with campers on a regular basis, he has a newfound appreciation for the work I do every day as a Camper Care staff person and Inclusion Coordinator. Responding to the needs of campers, parents and staff – often fueled with urgency and concern – is a taxing responsibility that every member of the Camper Care team experiences on a daily basis. I thanked this participant for noticing my hard work and told the group that though the work I do is often hard, it is also the most rewarding because I get to witness and often assist a camper in nitzachon, or pushing through a challenge.
During this week’s parishyot, Matot and Mas’ei, the Torah maps out every stop on the journey the Israelites took from Egypt to the Promised Land. An exodus that included 42 stops in all and took 40 years to make. Some stops were for a few days, some a few months, some for over a year. All were part of the journey. Forty years spans a long time – even a lifetime – for our ancestors who made this trek. They had no idea how long they would be traveling for or how long it would take. I would imagine that people often got homesick, frustrated, doubtful and had a crisis of faith about how and when this journey would end. But it is this journey that serves as an inspiration for us as we live our lives. Just as the Israelites had to live positively, one day at a time, believing and trusting that they would reach their goal of finding the Land of Milk and Honey, we too must believe that we can push through challenges to be able to reach our goals. Just as the 40 years crossing the desert were unbelievably challenging for our ancestors, we too have struggles in our lives. We too have a desert to cross sometimes. And that is when I am so grateful to be living here in the camp bubble for these 7 weeks out of the year to witness the beauty and depth of support and encouragement that comes from living in an intentionally Jewish community in which we can face our challenges with a safety net woven so strong below us that we can’t help but succeed.
I often tell parents, campers and even my own 2 children that one of the reasons we send our kids to camp every summer is to struggle. To push yourselves farther than you’ve pushed yourselves before. To see what you are capable of. And to do it all with the supportive and loving guidance of your near-peer role models – your beloved counselors, and your friends. What this does for us all is fills up our internal gas tank with confidence, love and connection so that we can go out and face the trials and tribulations of the world during the rest of the year.
There is a great quote that says – life is a journey, not a destination. This quote inspires me to believe that we should focus more on where we are in the moment rather than only looking ahead at where we are going. Camp is a gift that gives us the opportunity to not only climb a mountain and appreciate the journey, but also celebrate when we get to the top. It is a place where we push ourselves to climb higher, to be stronger and to support those around us to reach the summit. Our Galil campers get to live this metaphor as they ascend the Appalachian trail on their overnight hike. But you all also get to do it every day – in every moment you live here. You do it when you listen to another person’s side of the story. You do it when you admit when you’ve made a mistake and say sorry. You do it when you see another person’s point of view. You do it when you ask for forgiveness. You do it when you ask for help. You do it when you reach out and connect with someone who needs connecting. You do it when you grow comfortable with your discomfort and are able to relax and adjust to being at camp. You do it when you give encouragement to a friend. You do it when you need to do something that is way outside your comfort zone. And sometimes, you allow me to help you along the way. And for that, I am awestruck, amazed and eternally grateful.
Lori Zlotoff is the Inclusion Coordinator at Camp Harlam. She attend Kutz Camp as a camper and URJ Camp Newman as a counselor. Lori currently lives with her family in Port Washington, NY. And the proud mother of 2 Harlam campers!