Toni Davison Levenberg wanted answers from people who had lived the problems, so she went and got them – for herself and for Jewish camps nationwide.
Jewish summer camps everywhere have been working to determine best practices for opening next summer, given the pandemic. There have been Zoom sessions with advice, sponsored by various organizations, but they didn’t go deep enough, said Levenberg, director of the Steve and Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River.
Thus, Levenberg organized and facilitated an Oct. 13 Zoom session for summer camp leadership, sponsored by the JCC Association of North America. “I went to the leadership of JCCA and I said, ‘this is what people want to hear,’” Levenberg said.
“I believe right now that every organization is trying to find their value and what their place is in providing multiple supports to their constituents,” she said. “And I wanted to help JCCA be that valuable, central, resourced place for the JCC camps.
“Walking into my 16th summer (at Interlaken), I have always been a listener and a taker of all the support that JCCA has given us. It’s time for me to have a voice and role in leadership in what the field needs.”
At the core of Levenberg’s Zoom session were four directors who opened their camps last summer. The session was attended by more than 80 people, including directors and staff from among the 24 Jewish Community Center camps around North America.
Levenberg had questions for her peers who opened their camps last summer, like: If your camp is in a bubble where nobody can leave, how did you give your staff time off? How did you alter your summer program and daily schedule? Did campers get to choose elective activities? How did you manage your food service?
“If there are things I need, chances are good that those are similar to the things my colleagues need,” she said. Yet attendees were able to submit questions in advance, to ensure the session would be relevant for them.
Levenberg has since gotten a great deal of positive feedback, including even one of the four speakers telling her it was one of the best Zoom sessions he’d attended, she said.
After the successful Zoom session, Levenberg was invited to join a JCCA planning committee and now she’s onto another idea. She’s recruiting doctors for a medical directors’ Zoom session. Levenberg is excited to provide Zoom breakout rooms for camp doctors to learn from one another; it will be a rare opportunity for them, she said.
Interlaken is opening
Levenberg is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the local health department, turning to them for advice and guidelines. And she’s opening camp this summer.
“Interlaken is opening. We are building a bubble. We are building a safe bubble where nobody is allowed in and nobody is allowed out,” Levenberg said. “We will require that everybody comes with a negative test.”
Despite the protection offered by the bubble, camp will be operated with rigorous precautions. Everyone will be in a “pod” with just their cabin for the first two weeks of camp, she said.
“We are absolutely social distancing and masking anytime we’re near anyone that’s not in our cabin,” she said.
After two weeks, campers will transition to interacting with larger groups, still with precautions.
Levenberg is overseeing precautionary physical changes at camp, too, including the installation of a huge handwashing sink and touchless water bottle fillers. There will also be hand sanitizer stations everywhere.
“I am looking forward to everybody getting back to their happy place where they can be together, celebrating joyful Judaism, celebrating friendship, just back to being kids.”