This post is a part of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s summer blog series “Because of Jewish Camp.” Each week, we will be featuring personal reflections from camp parents, staff, and alumni exemplifying the ways that Jewish camp impacted their lives. Follow along all summer long, and share how Jewish camp impacted your life! Tell us your story in the comments, on Facebook, or tweet @JewishCamp using the hashtag #JewishCamp.
Finding Community after College
By Susan Klau
One of the best nights of the whole summer at URJ Crane Lake Camp is the last night of camp; what we call “firefly.” Everyone – campers, staff, and faculty – walks down to the lake in order of how many summers we’ve been at camp. According to tradition, we each light a candle, put it on a plank of wood, and make a wish as we set it adrift on the water. By the end of the ceremony, hundreds of lit candles twinkle on the lake, reflecting hundreds of wishes and memories from the camp community. My wish was always that I would see my camp friends again, and that no matter where I was we could always come together.
Many years later, I faced the challenge of transitioning from college life to working my first “adult” job in public relations in Manhattan. I had spent the past four years at American University in Washington D.C. and had immersed myself in the Jewish community there. I’d truly found a group of friends that felt like family, and the prospect of leaving my tight-knit community behind was daunting. I was terrified of moving to a big and unfamiliar city. How would I ever find a community?
I did not have to look very far. After posting on Facebook that I was moving to New York, old bunkmates and other members of the camp community living there welcomed me with open arms, invited me to their homes, showed me around the city, and taught me the difference between “uptown” and “downtown” trains. (I’d literally be lost without them!)
I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d spent thirteen of my summers at URJ Crane Lake Camp, where they imparted the value of “welcoming the stranger.” Any time a new camper was introduced to a bunk full of returning campers, we were taught to embrace them as family. All these years later, I was now the new camper looking for people to welcome me in.
Last January, a fellow camp alum hosted a camp-themed Shabbat dinner at her apartment. We all came together to welcome Shabbat, eat some great take-out, and talk about our lives and what we were up to. Of course, we couldn’t have a camp Shabbat without reminiscing about our days at Crane Lake – who was on what color war team, or who remembered the words to past fight songs. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of my friend’s apartment, I was transported back to West Stockbridge singing “Miriam’s Song” at song session and camping out with our Israeli scouts. For the first time since moving to New York, I thought: “maybe I can do this Manhattan thing.”
It’s been almost a year since I graduated from college and moved to the Big Apple. Looking back, I don’t know how I could have done it without the support of my camp community. Being a camp alum meant Shabbat dinner plans, brunch buddies, and friends to celebrate my birthday with me in a new place. The wish I made on my candle at the camp lake all those years ago has come true. Jewish camp continues to have such a meaningful impact on my adult life, far beyond the summers I spent there. I know now that whatever the future holds and wherever I go, I will never be a stranger; I will always have a camp family to welcome me in as one of their own.
Susan Klau was a camper, Machon and counselor at the URJ Crane Lake Camp for 13 years. She was proudly both an Olim Fellow and a Cornerstone Fellow. Susan graduated from American University in 2017 and now works in New York City.