Confessions of a Jewish Camp Counselor

by David Meyer

For nine years now – ten summers – life has begun in June or July and has ended sometime in August, taking a nine-month break marked by the beginnings and endings of my time at Habonim Dror Camp Moshava. While that may be a bit of an overstatement of Mosh’s power, it’s not too far from the truth.

My parents wanted me to go to a camp. My mom wanted me to go to a Jewish camp. A cadre of families we knew from school and synagogue sent their kids to Mosh and it was not too far away to freak my parents or me out (an hour and a half drive to northeastern Maryland from our home in the D.C. suburbs).

So I was off to Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, taking pride in its incredibly long, full name but having absolutely no idea of what I was getting myself into. As I learned, Mosh is one of seven Habonim Dror camps in North America and part of an international Zionist movement. We had swimming, arts and crafts, sports … all the corny camp stuff. On top of that there was the emphasis on Israel and commitment to tikkun olam. But what really hooked me was the energy put into every aspect of the day. I distinctly remember my first day at camp, my first time doing Israeli dancing on Friday night, and more than a few educational programs from my first year. There’s something really special about coming together as a community simply for the sake of coming together as a community. And every one of us was an empowered member of the camp – even a puny little ten year old. The whole thing just seemed really perfect.

Over time, Mosh became my home. It’s the one place I have always felt welcome – where I have most grown and blossomed. It’s also the only place on earth where I would be willing to give 18-plus hours of work each day, seven days a week, for two and a half months of my not-long-enough summer break from college.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my passion for my summer camp. Approximately 10,000 college-age students work with the estimated 50,000 children who attend 120 non-profit Jewish overnight camps across North America. Our workplaces may be idyllic but the work is grueling. As a madrich (literally, “guide”) at Camp Moshava, I wake up every day sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., and I proceed to go almost non-stop until the day of scheduled activities ends at 10:15 p.m. Then I have to put my campers to bed and plan the next day of activities, which can take anywhere from one to four hours and sometimes even the whole night.

Why does a 19-year-old college student, whose peers are spending their time at better-paying jobs, resume-filling internships, and the like, put up with these working conditions and keep going to camp? In part, it’s about those moments when everything goes right: When half the camp hides behind a building on the first day of the summer to surprise the other half. At times like these, the stress from sleeplessness and dealing with campers melts away, and the work seems worthwhile. But there’s more.

Mosh matters to me. To this day, it is one of the few places where I am most comfortable being me. It is the place where I continue to develop my most lasting relationships. On top of all that, it has given me an education in critical thinking and Jewish identity that has shaped how I approach my life year-round.

“A vacuum does not exist,” is a saying thrown around in Habonim Dror circles. The implication is that if we don’t take responsibility for our camp, or our world, or the Jewish people, someone else will. That’s why I keep coming back to camp: I want to shape my own destiny and to help others shape theirs.

David Meyer is a rising sophomore at the University of Maryland.

image: courtesy

David’s story, and his connection to the Jewish world, is just one of several we will be bringing to you this year.