What a day!  I write this blog post just before midnight on our second to last day of camp.  Today, we were awoken at 6:15 am by Israeli music for Yom Yisrael.  It was the beginning of a day of Israel related activities.  During shmirat Hagoof (morning physical activity) Achi and Karin, our two Israeli staff members ran a “basic training” exercise.  We ate Israeli foods at breakfast lunch and dinner and also had deeper discussions about what it means to be a Zionist in America and then played a game of Israeli Jeopardy.  We also had visits from “typical Israelis” at our meals and were encouraged to speak only Hebrew at the tables.  All in all, it was a fun day interspersed with our regular outdoor programming.

It is hard to believe that in 36 hours all of our first session chalutzim will be on their way home.  Our opening session has been phenomenal.  One need only look at the smiles on the chalutzim’s faces to see that overall they are having a great time, are learning and growing each in his/her own way.  Today I had a chance to speak with a number of campers about their experiences here, and their thoughts on the community we are building.  It delighted me to hear almost all of them tell me that they wanted to come back to camp to be a part of the second year of the program!

Although it is too early to write our postscript for the session, I think that the campers have enjoyed the mix of intense physical activities coupled with the typical “campy” activities that they could experience at many other sleep-away camps.  For example, last week there was a group of chautzim who spent two and a half days biking back to camp on dirt roads over mountain-passes.  These chalutzim arrived back at camp with an amazing sense of accomplishment.  All had managed to return to camp under their own power; none had to take breaks in the van that followed them on the road.  And when they returned, they reunited with their friends who were on a myriad of other excursions.  All were able to exchange stories about their time away and reconnect as though they had not seen each other for many months, while in fact it was only about 5 days.

As a camp director I love to stand back during “down time” and watch the interactions between our campers. Today, I stood on the side of the open area during our bunk pictures.  It was awesome to see how chalutzim spoke with each other and joked with each other with  a true sense of respect.  Unlike what one sees in a typical school yard, there was no one putting another down, there were not groups who were chatting with each other at the exclusion of others.  Instead there was a sense of community.  8th graders hanging out with 9th graders.  Boys hanging out with girls.  Boys from one tent playing with boys from another tent.  And all within a healthy context.  In short, I stood there during pictures watching a community at work.

This would not be such an unbelievable site to see, were it not for the fact that four weeks ago, almost no one knew anyone else.  And two weeks ago, eleven new people joined our community.  In only a few short days these new comers were made to feel as much a part of the community as the folks who had already been there for two week.

As we head into our final day and a half of programming, we are going to be returning to this theme of community.  At its core, Jewish summer camp is all about forming intense and intentional communities built around shared core values.  Our staff have worked tirelessly to enable the chalutzim to feel a connection to our camp as one of their communities.  If chalutzim relate to our community and the values we embody during the summer, then hopefully they can continue to relate to our community in the off season, and to connect with the members when at home and then to return next summer to be a part of the new community that will form, but will be based on the one that existed the summer before.

The next time I write, our community will be in transition.  Our first session chalutzim will have gone home, and our staff will be preparing for the next group (of 57 chalutzim) to begin their Ramah Outdoor Adventure experience on July 18th.  It is a bitter sweet moment.  We will miss our current chalutzim but know that 2/3rd of our community has yet to come through our doors (we have 57 joining next week and 20+ joining for session 3)