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Shabbat-O-Gram, Week 5

By Jodi Sperling July 31, 2021

Dear parents and friends,

Last night at Shabbat services we talked about gratitude. I started by telling the campers the story of Mitch and I buying camp. Most of them didn’t know the story – that Mitch I were old friends, that I had first visited Kingswood as a consultant in 2012 when Mitch was the director, and that on that visit I was blown away by the beauty of the space and place. That ever since that visit we had joked about buying Camp Kingswood, never actually thinking it could happen! That we had each separately directed overnight camps on behalf of Jewish non-profits our entire careers, but had both always dreamed of owning our own camps. How we had both been letting the JCC’s leadership know over the years that if they ever wanted to pass the torch of leading Kingswood, we’d love to talk.

I told the campers about Mitch calling the JCC at the beginning of COVID, as the world was turned upside down and camps and JCCs were struggling to make ends meet. How the Boston Jewish community was considering options for Kingswood, and that we offered them a way to keep Camp Kingswood a Jewish camp rather than selling the property to become something else, thereby preserving the community, history, and values of Camp Kingswood.

We still can’t believe it, I shared, letting the campers in on a secret – that everyday Mitch and I have to remind each other of how incredible this all is, because the reality of taking over a camp in COVID is that it’s really hard! Often the things that feel the hardest in the moment can be the most rewarding, and that’s been the case for us. I told the campers about some of the challenges. The sale of camp going through three months later than planned because all the necessary offices were closed, leading to uncertainty until the final moments as to whether or not it was actually going to happen. Not knowing until the last minute if I’d even be able to get to camp this summer from my home in Jerusalem, because of airport and Embassy closures. How luckily, we had intended to increase staff this summer significantly, so that even without the 10-15 staff who never made it because of visas and COVID, we still were able to maintain a higher-than-typical camper-to-counselor ratio with an awesome staff and program. How we’ve held our breath with each round of COVID testing, feeling the weight and pain of each of the other camps we’ve all read about in the news who have had to close early because of outbreaks or staffing shortages. How despite our incredible kitchen team working double duty this summer to make up for being short-staffed, we’ve still received amazing feedback about food on our camper surveys all summer! How everyone’s a little more fragile coming out of lockdowns, with campers, staff, and parents alike needing more patience and love than ever before.

A mindset of gratitude has been the secret sauce for us this summer. It’s fitting then, that in this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we come across the commandment to give thanks for our food, leading us to a practice of gratitude we do here at camp – singing Birkat HaMazon, the blessing we recite at the end of every meal, taking a moment to express gratitude for our food.

Gratitude has been proven to make people happier and healthier, but in difficult moments, it can be really hard to remember to feel grateful. Taking time every day to recognize out loud how incredible this all is has had the same effect as another gratitude ritual we teach kids here at camp – the practice of doing ‘Roses, Thorns and Buds’ each night, as some of the bunks do. We name the hard stuff (the thorns), thereby not avoiding or ignoring challenges, but we also name our daily wins (roses) and what we’re looking forward to tomorrow (buds). This simple exercise actually teaches campers the skill of practicing gratitude, because as we all know, it can be too easy sometimes to get sucked down by the hard parts.

As soon as campers started to arrive in June, Mitch and I were given the gift of constant reminders of gratitude. All I need to do is walk the few feet from my cabin to the dining hall any day at camp to see an endless parade of reasons to feel grateful. This morning, first it was our unbelievable waterfront team at 6:30 am in the water doing their weekly Saturday morning guard skills training, supporting each other and laughing despite the chilly temperature. A couple hours later, once campers started arriving for our Saturday morning breakfast buffet, I got to schmooze with some Bogrim boys, who were making the difficult call of whether to play in the afternoon soccer match or hang out in the hammocks by the waterfront during their free time this afternoon. Then I walked up the road to services with Elijah, my 5-year-old, and was joined by Lucy, a first-time Tsofim camper, who was excitedly trying to figure out the math of whether or not she’ll be the right age to be Elijah’s Chalutzim buddy in a few years when he’s an Ol (Olim, our youngest unit), or if she’ll already be on staff by then. 

Tonight we’ll all take part in our Camp Kingswood music festival, Camp-Chella (modeled after the famous music festival, Coachella.) In addition to guest appearances by our staff playing the roles of some famous celebrities (I hear Arianna Grande’s a possible headliner!), I also anticipate being blown away by the skills of our campers who will be performing. Campers in this past week’s Rock Band and Drum Circle electives will be showing off their skills, and Upper Fields will be full of ‘food truck’ stations and games, complete with glitter tattoos, flower-crown making, and hula hoop dancing. We’ll be ending the night with Glow Havdalah, following the vibe of Camp-Chella with Havdalah lit by glow sticks. Life is truly awesome here at camp. 🙂

As we spend our Shabbat at camp focused on feeling grateful, I encourage you to also stop today to think about what you’re grateful for. With COVID seemingly headed in the wrong direction, we can all find ourselves drifting into negative head space, and maybe doing a little ‘Rose, Bud, Thorn,’ to yourself or with someone else at home can help. Here, I’ll start. My thorn was not finishing the Shabbat-0-Gram last night. My rose is that it’s gorgeous and sunny here today, and we’re going to have an amazing afternoon at camp. I have too many buds to count, with everything going on in the coming days here at camp!

I wish you all a weekend full of roses and buds, but also the strength to name your thorns and move past them. I am grateful to you all for sharing your kids with us this summer, and for your kindness and patience as we lead camp this summer, and for all the summers yet to come.

Shabbat shalom,