Finding Myself – and My Career Path – Through Jewish Camp

By Sydney Ungar

My name is Sydney Ungar, last summer was my 11th summer at Camp Wise, my favorite ice cream flavor is cookies and cream, and I’m most looking forward to going on the jet ski this summer.

Okay okay, I guess we aren’t at camp, but I do wish that I was – and I am definitely living vicariously through my younger brother who is still there this summer. I spent five amazing summers as a Camp Wise camper starting at the age of eleven, and six incredible summers as a staff member – I was a counselor for three years and a supervisor for another three. Camp changed my life in so many ways, and has forever left an indelible mark on so many aspects of my day-to-day being – on my Jewish identity, my values, my thought processes, and even my career path.

The seminal experience with camp that truly shaped me into who I am today was during the summer of 2014, when I was a Cornerstone Fellow. Cornerstone is Foundation for Jewish Camp’s professional development opportunity for returning camp counselors to enrich their skills as Jewish educators, and attending the Cornerstone Seminar that summer allowed me to dive deeper into values-based Jewish programming through experiential Jewish education. I left the conference feeling inspired to bring what I learned to camp that summer. As a team of five fellows, we did all that we could to embody Camp Wise’s core Jewish values. From introducing weekly Shabbat-O-Grams to revamping our Havdallah ceremony so that each cabin sat in their own circle with their own Havdallah kit, being a Cornerstone Fellow taught me how to make an impactful change by starting at the grassroots level. I continue to use what I learned as a Cornerstone Fellow on a daily basis at my job as the student life coordinator at Hillel at Kent State.

Camp and Cornerstone inspired my love of working in the Jewish world and making a difference in the lives of young Jewish individuals, and is quite literally why I work for Hillel today. When searching for a job, I knew that I needed a few things. First, there was no way I was sitting behind a desk all day long. Second, I needed to work with young people. Third, and most importantly, I needed to inspire a kehillah kedosha, or a holy community, for Jewish individuals. At Hillel, I work to bring individuals into our kehillah kedosha by providing impactful programs and building meaningful relationships. I obtained these skills, and so many more, from the experience of being a Cornerstone Fellow.

As a staff member at camp, and now as a Jewish professional, I was – and still am – asked frequently, “What do you want to get out of this experience?,” or “What are your goals?” My response to these questions is simple: I want to make a difference. If I made a positive difference in life of even one of my campers, or now, even one of my students, I will have done my job. But to be given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of even more than those single individuals, first at camp and now in my career? Wow – I’m pretty lucky.

Sydney Unger spent five summers as a Camp Wise camper starting at the age of eleven, and six summers as a staff member. She was a 2014 Cornerstone Fellow. She currently works for Hillel at Kent State University as the Student Life Coordinator.

This piece 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.