It is hard to believe that we have started our last full week of session II.  As I write this blog post, all our chalutzim are fast asleep.  Tomorrow our Bogrim chalutzim head out for their 5 day masa.  Our Sollelim chalutzim leave on Tuesday and our Metayalim and JOLI chalutzim (having just returned) leave on Wednesday.    We will gather back on the Chava on Friday for our final Shabbat of the session.

This past Shabbat was another terrific Shabbat at the Chava (ranch).  Nadav, a star Sollelim counselor, lead one of the most spirited Shabbat services have heard in my years at Ramah.  Our kitchen prepared a new recipe of fish for dinner, and the weather throughout the day could not have been more perfect.   What a terrific way to move into what is sure to be a physically demanding week!

Over Shabbat I had the chance to walk around and observe many groups of chalutzim playing games with each other, hanging out with each other and going for walks together.  And at some point in my day I realized one of the aspects that makes this camp so special.   Kids are so NICE to each other!

One of my big worries about doubling the size of our camp in one year, was that we would develop cliques and we would have to worry about bullying.  While there are certainly groups within each edah who tend to hang out with each other more so than others, we do not have groups of campers who act as though they are “cooler” than the others.  Rather, everyone accepts each other for who they are despite all their idiosyncrasies.  We have spoken with our staff numerous times about being on the lookout for “bullying,” and while we do hear the occasional demeaning comment between two chalutzim, as far as we can tell we do not have a systemic problem at camp.

So why is it that chalutzim are so nice to each other?  I think there are a few reasons for this.

#1 The type of child who chooses to come to this sort of camp, is not your typical child.  Most of our chalutzim enjoy being active and outside.  While most are quite social, they enjoy socializing while engaged in activities, not simply sitting around doing nothing.    In all of our activities we emphasize the importance of respecting those around one.

#2 Our motto at camp is “challenge by choice.”  We emphasize this idea in all aspects of the program.  Each chalutz/a is in a competition only with him/herself.  We strive to empower each member of our community to stretch him/herself to go a little above and beyond where they normally would go.  By emphasizing “self completion”  we are able to create an atmosphere where one seeks to help others accomplish their goals.  This was most evident last week when I stood at the finish line in our duathelon perek.  The camper who crossed the finish line first, did so more than 10 minutes before the final three people crossed.  But rather than stand at the finish line and bask in his own achievement, he ran back along the course, meeting up with each runner, running alongside them,  and cheering them on as they too crossed the line.  When the final camper finished, who admittedly was not such a strong runner, everyone was there to cheer him on!  All left the duathelon perek feeling an enormous sense of satisfaction.

#3 Since the first night of the session, we have been emphasizing to our chalutzim that we are a Kehillah Kedosha (a holy community).  As such, we must respect each and every person.  Our Chalutzim have heard us say this phrase so many times that they often say it jokingly when they want to mimic the senior staff.  Yet, but by using this idea of being a Kehillah Kedosha as our guiding principle we have created an atmosphere where our chalutzim genuinely want to do everything possible to bring holiness into our camp community.  Acting respectfully to their fellow chalutzim is one such way to accomplish this.

At the end of the day, one of the most important lessons we can impart to our chalutzim is that of Derekh Eretz, treating each other with respect.  I am pleased to report that as we have grown in our second year, we have continued to place a huge emphasis on this attribute, and in our largest session are continuing to foster a community built on this universal value.