Latest Updates from Camp  Our Lasts

Our Lasts

By Lisa David
Dear Harlam Families,
As our session and summer come to a close, and we experience our “lasts” – last Shabbat, last song session, last night – it’s natural to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come and all that we have experienced throughout the summer. Some of our campers arrived at camp and immediately felt at home, jumping in wholeheartedly to every activity without hesitation. Others took some time to warm up to camp and this, at times fun but also at times overwhelming, experience.

We have campers who begin the summer and experience homesickness. They may miss the comforts of home, the familiarity, the people, when immersed in this new environment. It’s natural for them to feel out-of-sorts as they acclimate to a new place, and it happens both to new and veteran campers. When home is a place that provides love and support, it is natural to miss it when you are away.

But it is amazing to see the transformation of some of those very same, homesick campers to those who shed tears on the last night, as they anticipate their departure from their second home at camp. Sometimes our campers and families report kids returning home and feeling “camp-sick,” that they miss the community, the activity, the deep connections and beauty of Harlam. Take, for example, one of our young, new campers who, through her first days at camp, might have teared up during down time as she thought about home. By the end of that first week, she was dispensing advice like a veteran, sharing with friends how she overcame her homesickness and how they might also engage in the fun activities camp offered as a means of overcoming their own feelings of missing home.

Or, take for example, one of our male middle-school aged campers, whose parents lovingly described him as more of an “indoor kid” when preparing our team to welcome him this summer. His family had concerns about his first extended time away from home and his comfort being in a new environment with new kids. Well, fast forward to our Rikudiah (dance competition), a highlight of our Maccabiah (Color War) program, where that same camper performed onstage, in costume, in front of all of camp, proudly representing his team with great spirit and confidently enjoying something outside of his typical comfort zone.

When I talk about what makes Harlam special, I don’t often begin by emphasizing the size of our camp site, the facility and amenities, or the breadth of programming, though all of those things help make this place successful. Most important, though, is the community. The sense of safety, support, and connections nurtured here help kids discover their best and true selves. Being challenged and taking risks are easier with a safety net solidly in place around you. Meeting new people becomes easier in this immersive, communal environment. And finding beauty and meaning, and perhaps gratitude, is possible here, when curiosity is nurtured and wisdom is shared.

While not every kid was transformed entirely in the way that these stories relay, all of them are leaving here changed in some manner. Translating the intensity and impact of their experiences here to others outside of this “bubble” may be challenging, but we want you, too, to understand and 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. 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.

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