Dear GUCI Family –
I hope this note finds you and your family well and that you’ve all enjoyed a wonderful summer. At GUCI, as we look forward to welcoming Shabbat into our community, we know that when Havdalah concludes tomorrow evening, camp will soon be over. Whether people spend two, four, eight, ten or more weeks in Zionsville, experiencing time here is very strange. Many of us are here for what at the start feels like forever, and we know we’ve been here a long time. But at the same time, it flew by and we can’t believe it is over. I recall vividly standing in the parking lot outside my office nearly 11 weeks ago thinking about the enormous job ahead. Having done this job for a few years now, I know that even in the best, most efficient summers, we encounter personal and community challenges; some of them easily resolved and others requiring much more attention. I took a moment to pause and recognize the task ahead and what it would inevitably bring. And this is before we encountered Covid at camp ☹. I also recognized that even if we are intentional with our time, and show gratitude for the community we get to build together and experience, that at the end of the summer it will have flown by. And so it has.
We often speak of camp as a place to make the best friends in the world that will last a lifetime, a place to explore one’s Jewish identity, a place to have a great time, to learn, etc. And it certainly is that. When you dig a little deeper, however, camp is also a turbo boosted bootcamp. While we don’t build soldiers, we instead help grow good citizens and Jews. When you place up to 17 people (campers and staff) in a cabin for an extended period of time, to consider they inevitably have and negotiate numerous scenarios that build their toolboxes for social interaction in the world. No cabin at any summer camp in history has ever been free of drama. Whether it’s two young campers who disagree about the rules of a game or about where their shelving starts and ends, or whether it’s a cabin of teens learning to manage insecurities, new friendships, and varying levels of maturity, kids of all ages, with the help of their counselors and other adults in camp, learn to work their way through interpersonal challenges in productive ways. Counselors model and campers learn how to communicate with one another in respectful ways. And when they don’t and people have disagreements, they learn the importance of conflict resolution, apology and rebuilding trust. In order for the cabin to progress through the session, people have no choice but to learn to speak to one another. The quest for harmony in the cabin demands that people recognize and work to resolve interpersonal issues. This, of course, does not mean that everyone must like each other and that everyone’s friendships in the cabin will be strong. It does, however, teach campers that to progress as a community, differences and differing opinions are fine as long as people are treated with respect. They eventually recognize that everyone has something to bring to the group that is unique; something that lends to the collective personality of the group. When we, as staff, can see this recognition happening before our eyes, it gives us a tremendous sense of pride.
The fact that camp is tremendously fun is not the reason that GUCI has a decades-long list of alumni who cherish their time in Zionsville. The friendships that last a lifetime do not just happen because you walk through the gates and have a good time at camp. Alumni and current campers cherish their time at GUCI because they had to work for those friendships, and they had to work for the incredibly strong cabin and unit bonds they achieved in such a short amount of time. They might not realize it as it’s happening, but they had to overcome and embrace differences and differing ideas and opinions. They had to figure out how to mesh a variety of personalities, giving everyone in the cabin the high level of respect they deserve. As the years progress, campers who’ve know each other a long while must account for and accept that people change and grow at different rates and in many ways. It is not odd for friendships to strengthen and weaken and change altogether as campers continue through our program. This isn’t always easy for kids, but it’s an essential realization. And because they live so closely together, the work of building these bonds is not easily avoided. When a group of up to 17 people living together in a cabin start to realize that they function as a group independent of their individual friendships, that’s when the magic of camp starts to happen. And when they enjoy the success of overcoming the bumps in the road that occur whenever people live closely together, the cabin bonds are very strong, and the camper experience ends up being “one of the best summers” they’ve ever had. Friendships that last a lifetime are born out of the collective experience that is camp, which includes the tremendously fun times, the common connection to reform Judaism, and the experience of hard work building a cabin unit that embraces and supports everyone in it.
Our community has shown incredible resilience this summer. A huge shout out to our incredible staff. They remained committed to creating the best camper experience possible and rose to the occasion. By all accounts, our campers from both sessions had an incredible time at camp, made great friends, and learned a lot about themselves. We look forward to seeing everyone next summer!
URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute