7 min read

Shabbat-O-Gram Week 4

By Jodi Sperling July 24, 2021

Dear parents and friends,

It’s the first Shabbat of second session here at Kingswood, putting us just over the halfway mark of Summer 2021. Welcome to those of you whose campers have just joined us for second session, and welcome back to those of you who have been a part of the Camp Kingswood family before! We’ve been having the summer of our lives here at camp.

This was a very emotional week for us, and even though COVID kept us from our annual trip to Funtown Splashtown this summer, it felt like a roller coaster for those of us here! A parent call I received on Tuesday afternoon from a camper flying home summed it up perfectly. “Jodi,” the dad said, “when our daughter called us earlier after leaving camp on the bus to the airport, my wife and I were so concerned because she was sobbing uncontrollably! We were sure she missed us, and just couldn’t wait to get home.  Then we realized once we could understand her through her tears that she was crying out of sadness for having just left her new best friends! How did that happen in three and a half weeks?!”

That’s the beauty of camp. On Monday night, at our Closing Campfire, we saw hugs, tears, and love. We saw joy. We saw confidence and pride, as camper after camper was called up to receive an award – some for growth, some for achievement, some for passion. We saw bunkmates who struggled to find common ground in week one, embracing like siblings. We saw uninhibited emotion equally from 14-year-old boys and 9-year-old girls. We saw counselors who have known their campers for most of their lives consoling them, and we saw campers equally clinging onto their new counselors – some from Israel, Argentina, California, London – comforting their campers as if they’ve known each other forever.

One moment from that night stands out to me that I want to share with you, because it speaks loudly about one of the ways Kingswood is so special, and why I feel so lucky to have become a part of this camp community, and not any other camp.

A 16-year-old third-year camper had just won an award in woodworking, the Golden Hammer. The room had erupted. Everyone was cheering and chanting his name, and he jumped up to receive the award. He slapped high fives with all the campers he passed along the way to the front of the room, and after receiving the award, he hugged a group of campers who had come up especially to give him a hug. Not campers from his bunk. They were a part of it for sure, but that’s not the part I’m talking about. These weren’t even campers from his unit. These were random campers of different ages from all across camp.

That already makes Kingswood special, because a camp our size and structure allows for everyone to know everyone, and it’s not unusual for a 9th grader to hang out with 5th graders playing 9-square after dinner during chofesh, so there’s always a lot of cheering and high-fiving between units at Kingswood. But that’s also not the part that led me to share this story here! 🙂

What made this moment so incredible was that this was a camper with Down Syndrome in our Zohar program. These campers who had jumped up to hug him weren’t doing it for show, or because an adult was telling them to. They consider each other genuinely friends. Our Zohar program offers one cabin of boys and one cabin of girls each summer to live apart, in a bunk with a higher level of support and staffing, but to spend days integrated, just as much in the camp experience as any other camper. There are only a handful of Jewish camps in North America that offer a program like this, and while I know how incredible it is for our Zohar campers and their families, that moment on Monday night validated the incredible gift Zohar is for all of us here at camp.

After Monday night, the highs shifted to lows as we bid farewell to first session. Tuesday didn’t provide much time to be sad though, because our full summer campers jumped right into a fun-filled intersession as staff regrouped to prepare for new campers to arrive. Our seven-weekers bonded over trips to the movies and candle pin bowling (we rented out both facilities to be in line with our COVID protocols), and they relished in the extra time with all our staff, playing in the more relaxed atmosphere, having unlimited access to tubing and waterskiing, when the weather was cooperating! We were told we did a great job of replicating the “just chill at home” vibe they needed, while still being fun enough to make them not miss their phones. That sounds like a compliment from a 15-year old, right? 😉 While we were so sad to miss our normal in-person visiting day for full summer families, each camper had the chance to connect with their families through our Virtual Visiting Day. We rounded out the night before new campers arrived with a visit from the Ice Cream Truck, and it’s hard to say whether the campers or staff were more excited! All in all, it was an awesome intersession.

Thursday, it was back to First Day mode, and we all jumped right back into camp! Personally, the first day of second session is one of my favorite as a camp director because of the staff. Observing new staff on day one of second session compared to the first day of first session is unreal. Now, this session, everyone is a veteran. Everyone knows the cheers, the routine, the schedule. Of course, everyone learned all of this during staff training, but beginning first session, for new staff, it’s just theoretical. By the start of second session, everyone has done it before. We all know the chant and dance for the ‘Sports Report’ at Flag each day. We all know the moves to everyone’s favorite Ruach dances. We all know the flow of how to fit COVID-testing into our first-day rotations. First day of second session has a more comfortable, easy vibe to it, because our whole team has already been through it once together.

As we headed into Shabbat yesterday, you could feel that energy in the air. The comfortable, non-judgmental environment that says to campers, “Be your best self here. Leave the rest at home. Be a part of creating a space that feels good to everyone.”

Last night at Shabbat services, we talked about this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan. We heard about Moses continuing his farewell address, urging the people to remember the lessons of the Shema, specifically calling out the importance of a Mezuzah. For centuries, a mezuzah has marked spaces as sacred, and the Shema, the prayer enclosed in a mezuzah, reminds us to live in a way that contributes to the holiness of that space, be it a home, their bedroom, or anywhere else. We talked about how cool it is to be coming to this chapter right now, at the start of second session, when we are coming together to begin the task of building our sacred space.

For some campers, what’s sacred about camp is their bunk, and the relationships they develop with new friends. For some, what’s sacred about camp is Woods Pond, and the chance to rest in a hammock or cruise across in a sailboat. For others, what’s sacred about camp is the counselors, and the special relationships developed with older mentors and role models. One camper told me yesterday that it was ok that they were walking around without shoes, because that’s what they do at home, and this is their home. It’s hard to argue with that logic! (Don’t worry, I sent him back to get his shoes. ;-))

As we look toward this week, I am so excited to embark on this session with your children! We have an incredible three and a half weeks planned, and while you may not hear excitement reflecting that in letters right away, please trust that the most rewarding experiences are often a struggle at the start. As always, we invite you to reach out to check in anytime.

You can follow along through the photos in CampInTouch, through our blog, and through Instagram and Facebook. I encourage you to write a lot of letters to your kids! It may seem old-school, but nothing beats the fun of receiving an actual envelope and letter in the mail! You can also send emails that are printed out and distributed daily. Just a reminder – we do not give out packages at Kingswood, so any package received is just held at the office until the end of the session when it’s sent home with your camper. Please refrain from sending, unless it’s a birthday package or a marked forgotten item. We will give campers flat envelopes, and those can contain magazines, pictures, or anything else you can fit in a flat envelope, including gum.

Have a great week, and stay posted for more news from camp!

Shabbat shalom,