These past few weeks, one of the most important items on my desk is my eraser. Call me old school, but I still write all of my appointments in a pocket-sized date book. Thankfully, all appointments are written in pencil. You never know when a bar or bat mitzvah student will need to reschedule, or when something like Covid-19 will necessitate the need to erase every concert, bar or bat mitzvah, conference, or summer camp session. Sadly, staff week for summer camp this summer was erased L
Today, I would have been putting important items in piles for staff week at Camp Ramah in Northern California, where I serve as director of the Tikvah Program, where school-aged children and young adults with disabilities are included in the camping and vocational training program of camp. By the middle of next week, everything would have been packed in suitcases and knapsacks—in anticipation of an early Thursday morning flight from JFK to SFO or San Jose. In addition to necessary clothes (it gets warm midday and cold at night on the Monterrey Bay!), I would have my bike helmet, tennis racket, tallis, tefillin, computer, cables, chargers and more.
I would have an entire knapsack of materials about inclusion, behavioral management, disabilities (visible and invisible), the difference between equality and equity, all kinds of stories, prayer books, and more. I would be looking forward to an intense week of teaching and getting to know our beloved Tikvah counselors, and staff who will work with our campers in every part of camp.
None of this will happen this year. All Ramah camps and so many camps across the US and Canada are cancelled for the summer. It is simply not safe to open and operate camps this summer.
There is something magical about staff week in a Jewish summer camp. The staff members from around the country—and the world—spend hours learning about being counselors, being leaders and mentors, and being Jewish. They learn what it means to be a dugma (a personal example), to work as part of a team, to transmit the mission of camp. And they have a lot of fun! It is shocking to imagine the dining room—packed with only staff—can “grow” to fit the campers in one week as well. There are late night meetings, and song sessions, and bonding activities, there are ice breakers, swim tests, bunk decorating, ice cream parties, sessions with the camp insurer on important, difficult issues of appropriate behavior with campers; and there are often sessions with an outside expert on LBGTQ (LGBTQIA) issues and sensitivity. I can only imagine how the camps would have addressed current issues in our society—had they opened—from Corona to race issues.
For now, I will stare at all of these important items—on shelves and drawers—and long for next summer. Our work now turns to finding ways to offer some of the camp magic virtually, with our campers, staff and the larger camp community.