Hanukkah Highlights #3 – Elana Schrager
Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special.
Job at Camp: Bogrim Yoetzet (Camper Care Staff)
Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3
Favorite Camp Activity: Backpacking – anywhere, anytime!
Occupation: Communications and Research Intern at End Citizens United PAC, a grassroots funded group dedicated to fighting for campaign finance reform
I drove to camp last summer. Vermont to Maryland to Colorado in five days. Campus to camp, student to graduate before Shabbat had time to roll around again.
College, I thought as I drove—college is a game played for and by yourself. Camp, though—camp is a place of utter self-abnegation. Camp is where you go—where I went—to give in ways that you can’t during the school year. But I hadn’t been at camp for any length of time in over a year, and I felt young and unprepared and wasn’t sure if I remembered, anymore, how to give in the ways camp required of me.
As I drove west I thought – am I old enough to do this? This summer, rather than returning as a madricha (counselor), I would be a yoetzet, a member of the camper care team – a small group of individuals who serve as parent liaisons, provide extra support for counselors, and connect one-on-one with campers who are struggling. Throughout my summers on staff I had looked up to the camper care team – I had trusted them, respected them, and valued their advice. Now I was about to be one of them.
After days of driving I finally arrived at Ramah in the Rockies, where I quickly discovered that I possess tools I didn’t know I had – tools I’ve gathered from books and friends and choices (good and bad) and personal history. They are the tools I use to sort and organize the goings on of the world and my reactions to them. My chalutzim (campers) I learned, are still acquiring those tools. They are utterly fragile and utterly sound, with bodies and minds that break and mend all at once in the split second that you look away. They are testing, always testing … you, and themselves, and their friends, and their parents. They are bundles of raw sincerity, a sincerity made even more obvious by their half-hearted cynicism.
And I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the worlds of these amazing kids. I got to talk with them and listen to them and work with them as they shattered and mended and shattered again over the course of minutes, hours, days. And, for the first time in my life, I got to hear from their parents—to hear from Real Adults, grownups whose very voices made my knees go trembly when I got on the phone. I realized that I am not yet a Real Adult and no longer a kid. As a member of the camper care team, I learned that the role I play as a kind of intergenerational translator is an essential one – one that I am uniquely qualified for in my confusing, post-collegiate liminality.
It is December now, and dark outside. I am not a kid, or an adult, or a student. I, like my teenage campers this summer, am at home, working and testing and probing to figure out what identity, what thing will define me as my life moves forward. And sometimes little gleams of memory float across my eyelids—of a camper this summer, turning his face up to me and asking in total sincerity: “But… how do I know that that’s really who I am?”
I don’t have an answer, and I didn’t have one this summer. And I can now accept that not having an answer is okay. In the end, our campers take care of each other, and our incredible counselors take care of them. And we in the camper care office, no matter our age, exist as support—as liaisons, as backup…safety nets to catch those who stumble, waiting hands ready to help them step back into everyday life at camp.
And that’s the way it should be.