Shabbat-O-Gram Week 1
Just a week ago, as campers were packing their last few things into their duffel bags, here at camp we were having our closing Shabbat of Staff Training. We were wrapping up two intense weeks of preparations, and everyone was brimming with excitement for campers to finally arrive. Looking around the chapel, I couldn’t distinguish the long-time staff from the new ones, because everyone had their arms around each other and it seemed as if they had been friends forever. One of our new staff who had arrived a week earlier commented to me that she had never experienced anything like it. “I didn’t know you could become so close with strangers so quickly,” she said. “It’s like I’ve known my camp friends forever!” That’s the beauty of camp – after only a week, we were all one family, and the seeds of life-long friendships had taken root.
This week, that’s exactly what’s been happening for our campers. It’s been less than one week, but you would think the campers have all known each other for months! One of our seven-week campers who’s only ever been to camp for the second session told me yesterday that she was super-nervous to meet the first session kids, but now she feels like she’s known them forever. A first-year Olim camper explained to me today in A&C that she and her bunkmate (who just met) have decided that they will come to Kingswood together until they’re on CITs. Her new friend corrected her to say, “You mean until we’re on staff!” There’s just something magical in the air here at camp!
The magic made its way to the Olim overnight last night, where I had a remarkable experience. As our youngest unit, Olim has their overnight in our own Kingswood forest, and I had gone out to visit the group and say goodnight. As I approached, the kids were getting settled around the fire, anxiously awaiting s’mores. As usual with Olim, their excitement was palpable, and I stood up to help get the group quiet. I figured our Olim staff were going to need some help, because getting all our 2nd-5th grade campers quiet around a campfire was going to take all the help they could get. Nature Rob, a longtime Kingswood staff member and one of our summer assistant directors, was sitting with the group, and as he started talking, a hush fell over the crowd. He told them he was going to read them a few poems by his favorite author, Shel Silverstein. “Oh boy,” one of the counselors whispered to me, “this isn’t gonna fly. These kids are way too riled up to listen!” I just smiled, because there’s a reason I refer to Nature Rob as a camper-whisperer. As he started reading the first poem, you could have heard a pin drop. For the next 20 minutes, there wasn’t a peep, and all I could hear was the crackling of the fire. Every camper was glued to Rob’s reading, and as they were silently tapped on the shoulder to stand and have their turn making a s’more, they kept listening, being careful to tiptoe around other campers as to not disturb them as they listened too. Silence…a first for the unit of Olim.
Firsts are common here at camp, and this week, we’ve experienced a lot of them. For some campers, last Sunday was the first time they said goodbye to their parents for more than a night or two. For others, this week was the first time sleeping in a room with other kids, the first time eating foods they chose for themselves, or the first time getting up on waterskis. For many of our campers, this was the first time they’ve been without their cell phones for more than a few hours. Firsts can make you nervous. Just ask the CITs (counselors-in-training), who for the first time are stepping into the role of being a counselor! But as the CITs shared with me Wednesday at our weekly “Schmoozing with Jodi” session we have to debrief camper situations they encounter, firsts are also rewarding, exciting, and exhilarating. That’s what this first week of the summer has been about for all of us here at camp.
We’ve had an incredible week, and activities have gotten off to a great start! It’s always a good sign when I ask ten different campers what their favorite activity is, and I get ten different answers! According to them, it’s hard to choose a favorite. At sailing, campers are in our new sailboats learning how to capsize and round a buoy. At ropes, campers are scaling the tower, advancing to the more difficult side and learning how to belay. Matilda is this session’s camp play, and camp was buzzing after the cast list was posted Wednesday. At arts and crafts, all sorts of creative juices are flowing, and tie-dye, wood carvings, and ceramics are just a few of the projects already underway. We’re offering mountain biking for the first time this summer with a whole fleet of new bikes, and our mountain bikers have already taken to the trails. At the lake kids are learning to stand on water skis and wakeboards, and lots of campers have had turns tubing. The weather has been perfect for campers to be having a blast in our Aqua Park of inflatable water toys, and swimming has been packed every day for free swim. Our chickens and goats have had lots of visitors, and this morning the campers in outdoor cooking made shakshuka using the eggs from our chickens and vegetables from our garden. Upper fields has been packed with ultimate Frisbee, soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, volleyball, and lacrosse, and we’ve even had time to squeeze in some mud kickball and soccer when we had a few hours of rain on Monday! As one tsofim camper shouted, “WHAT? We can PLAY in the mud? I NEVER get to do this at home! This is the MOST AWESOME THING EVER!!”
You would think a full day of camp activities would be enough to tire out any camper, but after dinner this week the excitement has stayed strong. We start every evening after dinner all together at the Waterfront for chofesh (free time), and then we shift gears into evening programs, which are often separated by unit. Evening programs have been hilarious and fun, and each unit has used their evening time programs as an opportunity to bring their unit together, help everyone get to know each other, and have some great cabin bonding. If you’ve been following Kingswood on social media, you’ve probably seen that we’ve started sharing daily announcements with families. Each day you can see what’s in store for evening programs so you know what you’re looking at when you see the crazy pictures online!
We’re getting ready to welcome our first Shabbat of the summer as a camp community, and Chalutzim and Olim are preparing to lead the festivities starting tonight, all the way through Havdalah tomorrow night. One of my favorite Kingswood programs is Chalutzim/Olim buddies, where our oldest campers are paired with our youngest campers for activities throughout the session. They’re leading Shabbat this week with their buddies, and it’s been incredible to watch our oldest campers step up, taking our youngest campers under their wing to plan Shabbat together. Tonight at Shabbat services I’ll spend a few minutes sharing the story of this week’s Torah portion, Korach, where we read about the rebellion Korach led against Moses and Aaron. It’s a fitting story for the first week of camp, and it echoes the conversations I had with every unit on Sunday. In that conversation, we talked about the importance of keeping campers safe, and how that’s not just about keeping safe on the outside with things like life jackets and helmets, but it’s also about feeling safe on the inside, and speaking up if something is wrong. We talked about the values of welcoming newcomers warmly and of sticking up for the kids in your cabin if you hear or see something that’s not ok. We talked about the importance of taking responsibility for your own actions, and like Korach, standing up for what you believe in and taking action when you perceive others to be misusing power.
I look forward to sharing more stories with you in the coming weeks, and until then, don’t be too jealous of all the fun we’re having here at camp!