7 min read

Shabbat-O-Gram, Week 7

By Jodi Sperling August 14, 2021

Dear families and friends,

Last Shabbat after I finished writing the Shabbat-O-Gram, I walked out of my cabin ready for a fun and peaceful Saturday, excited to hang out with some Tsofim campers at the waterfront. We were heading into the final week of camp, and the hard parts of running in COVID were behind us. We had tested, masked, podded, bubbled, tested more…we had taken all the right steps, and our masks seemed like a part of a summer long gone. But as I headed to the waterfront with excitement, we received the call that a two-weeker had gone home earlier in the week and had just tested positive for COVID.

Imagine stopping short at a red light and hearing the screeching of the brakes. That was the inside of my head in that moment. What? How? No way! It couldn’t be true. Thankfully, we spent the last two years training for that moment. We had planned, developed protocols, trained our team, and consulted with experts to know how to move forward that day, but I’ll be honest – there were a few moments earlier this week when I wasn’t sure what the end of the session would look like. When we submit PCR tests, the results populate on a website, sometimes all at once, sometimes in batches, and sometimes trickling in, with some results showing hours after the others. Not only do I now have significantly more grey hair than I did last week, but I also have a newfound empathy for camp parents hitting ‘refresh’ on the camp photos we post each day, waiting for new ones to appear.

Needless to say, we made it through. What’s remarkable, is that we didn’t just survive the last week – we THRIVED this week. I think a lot about the resilience kids were forced to develop in COVID – managing disappointment after disappointment over the last two years as life as they know it was cancelled and changed. This week, I think we were able to get through the tougher parts with spirits high and experiences undamped because of the inner strength our campers and staff have developed in the times of COVID. We shut COVID down, and that is thanks to our campers and staff, and their commitment to keep our Kingswood community healthy, happy and safe.

Campers danced, laughed, and played, taking it in stride that they had to be more separated than usual. We shifted back to eating outside without any complaints. It didn’t hurt that it was the hottest week of the summer, when most people agreed it was better to eat outside anyway! On the day our kitchen team was almost entirely in quarantine while we awaited their test results, our staff jumped in, each taking shifts during their free time. One of our camper care specialists, Annette, made such delicious grilled cheese sandwiches that we all agreed she may need to step back into the kitchen in the future! Our Israeli staff felt right at home, joking that they were used to taking kitchen shifts in the army, and this was nothing. 🙂

Campers masked up needing very few reminders, and everyone rolled with the punches of shifting back to cabin activities for a couple of days as we quarantined and distanced. When we moved back to electives midweek, campers were happy to return to them, but also shared how appreciative they were that so much effort had been put into making their bunk activity schedule full of the activities they wanted to do anyway.

The biggest round of applause goes to our thespians. The committed actors in this session’s musical started the week heading into a final week of rehearsals for our all-camp musical, Into the Woods. After contemplating the best way to continue rehearsals divided by pods, the cast and staff agreed to pivot toward a ‘revue,’ and we were treated to ‘Kingswood K(C)aberet,’ a showcase of songs from Into the Woods, and some other favorites chosen by the actors involved. We couldn’t have asked for a better end result, as campers had even more of a chance to shine this way, wowing us one after another.

As we headed into Shabbat yesterday, with camp feeling very much back to normal, I finally let out a deep breath. While this week was harder than anticipated, it was also amazing in so many ways, and I learned so much. I shared two things I learned with the campers this morning at services.

First, I shared with the kids, this week I learned something about masks. I’ll be honest, while I fully appreciate their necessity (especially after this week!), I hate them. I hate wearing them, I hate trying to hear people talk through them, I hate remembering to have it with me, and at the camp bus I hated trying to get to know kids and parents for the first time wearing one. BUT…I learned this week, that I hate masks a little less when I’m masked with people I already know. It felt really different wearing a mask this week than it did the first week of camp. The first week of camp, many of us were strangers, trying to form connections through masks. That can feel distant and awkward. This past week, we already knew each other. We knew how to read each other’s body language, and we knew how to read each other’s eyes. The mask was less of a barrier this week, because we were already connected. It didn’t feel like as big of a deal. We talked about that this morning, and how it will feel, as most campers will be starting a school year, once again in masks. We talked about seeking out ways to get to know new classmates unmasked, so that when they are masked together, they’ll be more comfortable, and be able to communicate more effectively with the rest of their body language.

My other take-away from this week that I shared with the campers is something that many of you probably observed this year in your own homes. Between moments of tension and bickering from having to be together so much more than usual, many families would say they are closer after having spent the last year and a half in COVID. Many of our staff moved home unexpectedly to their parents’ houses, and while there are the obvious challenges, they mostly talk about being so much closer with their parents now. This is what we saw here at camp too! An unanticipated outcome of this past week is that our bunks got closer. Little disagreements resolved. Cliques separated. Campers who hadn’t found common ground formed inside jokes. We ended the week with bunks feeling even more connected, and kids feeling more seen and supported than they did before.

So, while this wasn’t the last week of camp we anticipated, I’m grateful for what we gained from it. I’m especially grateful to have this final Shabbat of the summer all together. We all know how lucky we are to be here right now, and you can feel it in the air. Most campers are already talking about next year, as they brim with anticipation for what comes next in their Kingswood journey. I overheard a few kids at lunch debating whether to sign up for 3.5 or 7 weeks next year, and it was very sweet to hear the long-time Chalutzim campers encouraging younger Tsofim kids to come for the full summer, sharing that they wish they had started coming full-summer earlier than they did.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s program, and am especially excited the weather will cooperate and allow us to do our Closing Campfire outside this session! Before that, we’ll be treated to an incredible Banquet created by the CITs. I’d tell you the theme, but I made them promise not to tell me until it’s revealed to the campers in a few hours.

I’ll leave you for the summer with a comment from Hayden, a first-time Tsofim camper who came for first session, and decided at about this moment last session to stay all seven weeks. “Jodi,” he said, with his giant contagious grin, “I get it now. This place got me. It’s home.”

From our home to yours, shabbat shalom,