Gesher is a Hebrew word meaning “bridge.” The Gesher Program is a summer leadership opportunity for rising high school seniors that bridges the gap from being a camper to being a staff member. The Gesher program was created to better develop future leaders of Camp Harlam, within the Reform Movement, and at home. However, this program is not just about developing future leaders; it is about giving your child experiences and tangible tools that will enable them to be successful on a personal and professional level. We remain committed to providing a robust experience that strengthens Jewish identity and provides opportunity for growth.
Summer 2023 Dates: Sunday, June 18 – Sunday, August 13
The Gesher program is an 8-week (full season) experience that includes a 2-week experiential component living in the cabins with campers.
The Gesher application is not open yet. Please stay tuned for more information about the upcoming application and information sessions. If you have any preliminary questions, reach out to Aaron Soloman, Assistant Director, at ASoloman@URJ.org or any member of the Camp Harlam Professional Staff.
See below for answers to some frequently asked questions about our Gesher program:
Should I convince my child to attend?
There are a few things to consider, and you will have to decide what to prioritize. Camp is a healthy, safe, and supervised place for your child to build skills and thrive. At their current age, your children are vulnerable. That has always been true, but the current environment that kids are living in is making it much harder for them to thrive mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Camp can change that trajectory and can be a place for your child to breathe, recalibrate, and leave the summer (to begin a stressful senior high school year) on better emotional footing than when they arrived. Read, reread, and decide if it might be worth the uncomfortable conversation with your child about why you are pushing them to attend, maybe even making the decision for them.
Is the Gesher program the full summer or can my child attend for part of the summer?
The Gesher program is an 8-week program that consists of 6 weeks of curriculum-based training and hands on learning, combined with living communally in the Bayit with peers and learning valuable leadership and project management skills. It also consists of team building and provides the opportunity to both deepen existing friendships and develop new connections. The final 2 weeks of the program will place Gesher participants in a bunk to learn alongside our cabin counselors and continue to develop new skills (what to do and what not to do). This opportunity to experience bunk living will better position CITs well to make a healthy decision about working at camp in the following summers. While we recommend all our Gesher participants stay through the entire 8-week experience, we do allow for an early departure after 6-weeks, under certain circumstances.
Is there a different price if my child opts out of the 2-week immersive bunk living experience at the end of the summer?
The price for the program is based on 6 weeks of intensive learning while living communally in the Bayit under close supervision. The final 2 weeks of the program yields continued supervision and programming and an additional stipend toward your first summer as a camp staff member (Gesher participants receive a $100/$200 bonus during their first year as a staff member depending on whether they participate for 6 weeks/8 weeks).
Why did we change the Gesher program to include a 2-week option to live in the bunk?
Mostly, because what we have learned historically from first year staff members is that they felt that more experiential learning would have better prepared them to be the best staff member possible. And, due to COVID and our need to offer a shorter experience for our CITs in 2021, we were able to test out completing our curriculum in a shorter amount of time, and it worked! We also were able to pilot a small number of CITs to live in bunks during that second session and received positive reviews about the experience. Essentially, we learned that shortening the curriculum-based experience wasn’t at the sacrifice of learning. We learned that the 6 weeks provided ample time to execute the full curriculum and the benefits of in bunk placement learning were invaluable.
Will my child be able to work on college applications during the Gesher experience?
YES. There is a lot of free time built into the program, and seeing kids collectively support one another (while sitting in hammocks or lounging at the amphitheater) to write essays, decide on which schools to apply to, and getting advice or some essay editing from their mentors at camp (who they listen to more readily than to parents) is beautiful. AND, it’s also okay for your child to use the opportunity at camp to recharge so that they arrive home with more energy and willingness to shift efforts back to academic and college preparation.
My child doesn't seem to have any friends attending. Won't that make it hard for them to have a successful experience?
Traditionally, the Gesher summer is one where new friendships are formed. It is typically the year where first session and second session kids merge and live together for the first time. That makes for an uncomfortable first day. But while despair is bad, discomfort is often what propels growth. In fact it is good practice for your child before they head off to college! And it is short lived. Our experience has shown us that the curriculum and leadership provided by our Gesher staff helps kids to build connections quickly, as well as to develop skills to have a very positive impact on the younger campers who tend to “idolize” their CITs. Remind your child how much they looked up to their CITs and remind them of how wonderful it will feel to be a young person’s somebody!
The most valuable way to hear about the CIT program is from former CITs. Here is what some CITs had to say about their experience:
“Being a CIT requires you to be okay with making mistakes, accepting them, and learning quickly from them and moving on.”
“I really didn’t expect to change at all when the summer began, but at the end of the summer I realized just how much I had changed. Last year, I cared so much about how others viewed me. And as the course of the summer went on, I stared to recognize that I was so much happier when I was unapologetically me. And I’ve carried this into the beginning of this senior year of high school and I couldn’t be happier not caring about what others think of me.”
“I had the summer of my life. I grew in ways that I did not predict, and I had an incredibly meaningful experience.”
“I really loved this summer. I think it gave the participants so many opportunities to learn how to grow as future leaders not only at camp.”
“My favorite part of the Gesher program was the fact that we were given trust and freedom to be independent with our own kids.”
“I had such a positive experience this summer. I really thought that we had a lot of direction and purpose for being at camp.”
“My favorite part of the Gesher program was the balance it provided between camper and counselor. We had our responsibilities and made the most of our opportunities working with campers, as well as hanging out within Gesher and our fellow CITs.”
“I had many experiences that made my Gesher summer so amazing. One part was simply living in the Bayit. Getting to live with all my friends under one roof really made me appreciate everyone. I loved being able to walk into the center room at night and always have something new to do with someone new. I also loved the aspect of the summer that gave us the freedom to do what we liked. I’ve always been very anxious and I like to do things on my own time, very independently. At camp, it can be difficult to find time to yourself. But the off periods, and the ability to pick what you want as a CIT made the summer so awesome.”
“I became more outgoing and was given many chances to go out of my comfort zone.”
We are committed to providing a safe environment for kids to learn new skills, while giving kids the practice to learn new things and make mistakes in a supportive environment. We see camp as a place where children can learn and grow into the best versions of themselves. In an environment like Harlam, where there is supervision, support, and scaffolding around children, the ability to grow is expedited. And with growth, can come an increase in self-esteem and confidence, even when there is trepidation. Our goal is to make sure everyone in our community leaves camp feeling better about themselves than when they arrived. Giving kids the opportunity to decompress, build skills, develop new relationships, and build connections is a great gift.
We know this is difficult, and we are here to help in any way we can if needed, whether it’s to speak with your personally, or to join a group of parents for a zoom conversation to help you all to perhaps collectively make a decision to send a group of children. In addition, we care about you PARENTS! Parenting during these unprecedented times is challenging. Sometimes the gift we can give our children is to help their decisions along and taking time as parents to breathe and recharge during the summer.
If you feel the Gesher program might be right for your child, but have some questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Aaron Soloman at ASoloman@URJ.org or any member of our Professional Staff. We are happy to answer questions and talk through any concerns.