I’ve spent every summer since I was five-years-old at camp. (Except for one summer I spent with my cousins in Israel when I was 13!) I loved being a camper; I loved the fun summers, the memories, the surprises, the friendships. I loved every camp job I have ever had: Counselor-In-Training, Junior Counselor, Senior Counselor, Sports Camp Counselor, Drama Counselor, Unit Leader, Assistant Director and Director.
But it was not until I became the Director of Camp Milldale, the day camp for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, that I realized the true value of Jewish camp. Camp Milldale focuses on being a caring Jewish community. Jewish camp imparts Jewish values. The value of V’ahavtah L’reacha Kamocha, or “loving your fellow as yourself” is seen daily in every interaction, especially in those small moments.
I have learned that it’s the small moments that count the most…that I remember the most… that make me realize how lucky I am to be a camp director and to have the opportunity to give campers small moments that make a big, lasting impact.
How do I define “small moments?” A counselor holding a new camper’s hand walking to and from activities. A camper offering to trade popsicles because his friend likes the other flavor better. A specialist realizing that her activity is a camper’s favorite thing to do. A camper learning to dive, or earning his first opportunity to go down the waterslide. All of these small moments make camp so special, so magical, and such an important part of growing up.
One of my most special small moments involved campers Jacob and Ira two summers ago. The two good friends were playing against each other in “gaga.” Ira was hit out of the game and was very sad about it. Jacob saw that his friend was upset and deliberately got himself out so that he could cheer up Ira. He sat down next to Ira, let him play with one of his action figures, and they both smiled and laughed. Jacob’s counselor told Jacob how proud he was of him, and Jacob replied (and I couldn’t make this up even if I wanted to), “I like dodge ball, but I like Ira better.” That is a small moment that makes a big impact.
We connect to the greater good. Camp Milldale strives to always have campers feeling good, but feeling good is not the same as DOING GOOD. Our focus on Tikkun Olum, or “repair the world” comes through in our every day activities like nature, Israeli culture, gardening, and cooking. This type of informal Jewish education is something in which campers connect.
David Mitnick, the Assistant Director of Camp Milldale feels, “A core Jewish value found at synagogues around the globe is the idea that learning never ends, and at Camp Milldale we feel that is true in an informal setting as well. At camp sing-a-longs, where campers sing songs from Israel’s independence to the latest Jewish Rock, Torah and Israel themes, it penetrates in a fun and inspiring way. Swim lessons fulfill the Torah requirement that we teach our children to swim. Swimming not only assists the child with independence, it also provides a life-saving skill. Camp is integral in providing these opportunities for our campers to grow and challenge themselves is a Jewish value that rests on our shoulders.”
The Foundation for Jewish Camping sums it all up best: “The impact of Jewish camp is immediate – campers return home connected to a community and friends that will last them a lifetime. And it doesn’t stop there. Children with pivotal Jewish camp experiences are more likely to become adults who value their Jewish heritage, support Jewish causes, and take on leadership roles in their communities.”