By Michi Rosenhek Zelermyer, Director of Programming
You might think that Pesach is the holiday of freedom, but in the camping world, it represents more than that. The Exodus from Egypt is the starting point for the ULTIMATE Jewish camping trip: 40 years roughing it in the desert, sand in your sheets and no Agam (waterfront) to jump into. Two months without a shower with good water pressure sounds like a walk in the park by comparison! I embarked on my own trip two weeks ago, camping out at the Marriott in Baltimore, attending my first camp-related conference.
“How was it?”
That was the question everyone was asking me upon my return. Organized by the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Leaders Assembly 2018 hosted over 150 presenters, and countless sessions, workshops, and story-telling opportunities. Imagine an award night that fêted directors who had given their entire careers to furthering the goals of Jewish summer camp and a plenary panel featuring parents who love sending their children to camp and still want to be a part of camp themselves. Now picture all 800 Leaders Assembly attendees networking, exchanging ideas, and simply enjoying each other’s company! I think that’s what struck me most about the conference. There were many camps represented from across the Jewish spectrum: Orthodox Conservative, Reform, and non-denominational in their mission. There were camps that are vegetarian and looking to incorporate vegan strategies, while other camps discussed how best to send out BBQ supplies for overnights. There were camps that only hire staff who do not come to camp with children, and other camps that encourage the hiring of staff who bring children. There were camps who have waterfronts and pools, and camps that refuse to have pools. There was even one camp, set in the Rocky Mountains, that does not have any access to water at all and focuses on rock climbing, survival skills, and hiking instead. And then of course, there are so many different methods and mindsets that camps employ while constructing Shabbat celebrations, cheder ochel (dining hall) culture, and Maccabiah activities.
So, you would think that with all the varied visions and missions, it would be tough to put all these intelligent, passionate, and vocal people together in one hotel for three days. How did it work? Why did it work? Because we ALL feel the same way about camp. We owe camp our earliest, most influential years, and it continues to define us as Jews who care about the next generations.
There are also many points of commonality between these differently-mandated camps. Jewish camp professionals, across the board, are: looking to improve their camper care resources and communication methods; searching out more inclusive approaches for campers and staff with special needs; and trying to figure out how to bring camp to families during the year. They are committed to fun and relevant summer camping activities, and dedicated to creating a lasting impression that connects campers to their Jewish identities long after their formative camp experiences.
So in answer to my family, friends, and colleagues who asked, “How was it?” and “What was it like?”… Smiling faces and animated discussions, helpful seminars and moving speeches. That was my experience at Leaders Assembly 2018, and it is so very clear to me that we all feel the same way: being a camp professional is the BEST job ever!
As we head into the second round of yomtov, the Yavneh community wishes you a Chag Kasher v’Sameach!