The beauty of camp
The mission of Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps is to develop and deepen personal Jewish identities, to create sacred spaces and to enable all who come to experience community, growth, friendship and joy, and further their understanding of their place and purpose in the world.
Every opening day of camp, I cry. The moment the campers step off the buses and into camp is somewhat of a holy moment for me, and I find myself moved to tears. At that moment of stepping into camp, I see hope, excitement, possibility on the faces of campers. I see nerves, and I see kids working through their feelings and leaning on one another, building friendships and connections with the support of counselors who believe their role to be the most important in shaping this experience for our campers. I feel an energy that is shared by every person in camp, our most seasoned staff members and campers as well as the newest members of our camp family. Your children are incredible, and they are kind and brave and settling into camp with great intention.
The beauty of camp is that, from year to year, it is different and beautiful in its own way. Why? Because each year, the members of our community change. And each member of our community contributes in a deep and meaningful way, just by being their authentic selves. My greatest honor today was watching your kids begin to build relationships with one another with open hearts and helping hands (and so much laughter). As they unpacked their suitcases, they worked together to set up their cabin environments. As they ran around at evening programs, they participated in activities that would help their cabin build a foundation.
The mission of Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps is to develop and deepen personal Jewish identities, to create sacred spaces and to enable all who come to experience community, growth, friendship and joy, and further their understanding of their place and purpose in the world. We further this mission by following our values: Fun, empathy, courage, community, pride, role modeling and curiosity. These core values hang in our teatron where we pray each night. There they hang to remind us to be intentional in our work, and to remind our campers of what defines and guides us as a camp.
When we talk about creating a values-guided environment that cultivates personal growth, every moment is an opportunity. Done with intention and care, even lip sync and American idol-type activities, popular evening programs at camps, are more than meets the eye. Each cabin chooses a song to sing and choreograph, costumes included. It is great fun, with a lot of cheering, and every single camper and counselor participates. On the surface, the program looks just like a fun thing to do for the evening. But this seemingly simple program goes so much deeper than that.
For some kids, standing up in front of a group of their peers can be so overwhelming. Maybe this was their first time ever doing something like this, and it required great bravery. For others, performing might be where they are most in their element, but navigating that terrain as part of a group is tricky. Others still might take this opportunity to challenge themselves to loosen up and feel both pride as well as a deeper connection to their cabin mates as a result of the experience. And the people your campers look up to the most in camp, their cabin counselors, stood right beside them acting every bit as goofy. Even in moments like these, we are building a family.
What develops in each camper and counselor as a result of facing individual challenges while sharing these compounding experiences is leadership, creativity, negotiation, an ability to build relationships, and comfort and pride in who they are. Growing up in our camps, and eventually working at camp, prepares our kids with a strong set of skills for navigating so much in life.
Tonight, as we begin our second session of the summer, each cabin spent time creating a cabin brit, a covenant or agreement. They decided together how they would like to take care of one another and their space, recognizing the importance of each and every one in their cabin family. We know that the first few days of camp are critical in building a strong foundation for each cabin. I have been struck by the kindness and respect I have seen our campers show one another in these first hours, and I have no doubt we are going to be building an incredibly meaningful session together here at camp.
Our counselors and staff have been working, preparing and putting together intentional programming to help make your camper’s experience with us one of connection, growth and fun. There is no better moment than the one when we welcome your kids into camp. We look forward to joyful days and making great meaning here at Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp.
Jen Shankman is the director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps. She has worked in a wide range of educational settings within the Jewish community for well over 25 years, from early childhood education to youth development, music education to camping. Jen brings a passion for the moral and social development of children and a true love for mentoring and training staff.