“Are you still doing that…camp thing?” my coworker, college friend, or maybe distant family member asks. I’ve heard it countless times. After eight summers as a camper and six on staff at the Steve and Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC, I have trouble answering accurately. It will never be as simple as saying, “I’m going back this summer” or, “Not this year.”
At 23, I’m older than most of our other staff, and it becomes logistically more difficult each year to set aside several weeks of summer to disappear to my very favorite place. Sadly, I probably won’t work at camp every summer for the rest of my life. Thankfully, that doesn’t matter. Even when I’m not physically present at camp, camp is present with me. Reflecting on my life, I’m confident that my summer experiences have influenced and carved every facet.
Anyone’s Jewish summer camp story might sound both entirely unique and surprisingly familiar, and that is part of the magic that creates our community. My story involves counselors, a good lake, a beat-up guitar, the scar on my right thumb I got from trying to puncture a can of beans with a bottle opener, supportive friends and unbelievable stars on clear nights. I’ve held the title of counselor, unit leader, village director and a handful of other roles that require more explanation than I can offer just now.
At this point, the narrative is totally scattered; camp has woven itself into my character seamlessly. Having role models who were never “too cool” to act silly cultivated a deep appreciation for genuine fun. Participating in a profound leadership cycle instilled in me a passion for helping others grow. My story builds my values.
Jewish summer camp is a magical T-shirt that fits every time you try it on, at any age or stage. Of course, I put mine on when I go to Interlaken in the summer, but it’s actually incredibly versatile, more so than any little black dress or go-to denim jacket. I’ve needed my magic camp tee for job interviews because of the extensive personal and professional experiences camp provides.
The camp shirt comes out at Kids Center, the JCC’s after school care program, where I song-lead on Friday afternoons to welcome Shabbat. Thanks to summers at Interlaken, I play guitar and have seven years as a song-leader under my belt. I even wore the Jewish summer camp T-shirt while traveling in Europe to make friends using a few words of Hungarian I’d learned from international staff in summers past. This metaphorical camp shirt encourages me to be enthusiastic, understanding, excited about Judaism, flexible, goofy, a good listener and so much more. It fits better as each summer unfolds.
No matter my next steps, I can count on the confidence, skills and compassion I have from time at Interlaken to help me move forward. I cannot describe the extent of my gratitude for Jewish summer camp. No matter where I am in life, I know:
I’ll always be doing “that camp thing.”
Aviva Glassman, Milwaukee resident, spends Friday afternoons at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center with Kids Center song-leading for Shabbat.
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The One Happy Camper program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Foundation for Jewish Camp provides grants and other resources. More information: Anna Goldstein, outreach/teen philanthropy coordinator at 414-390-5733 or AnnaG@MilwaukeeJewish.org.
Read about area overnight and day camps at GoJewishMKE.com.