Shalom from the URJ’s Myron S. Goldman Union Camp Institute!
It’s a pleasure to be writing to you today as we prepare for the first Shabbat of Kallah Aleph (first session), summer 2023! We had a fantastic opening day on Tuesday; a day that marked the first time in camp for many of our campers. It also marked the end of the busiest four weeks of the year for our professional team. The full-time team has been living here at camp since the third week of May finalizing training, details and ensuring camp was ready for another wonderful summer. Camp is running beautifully thanks to our entire staff’s tremendous work and dedication, and to our campers’ willingness to grow and overcome fears.
The educational theme for our summer is Parashat Ha’Shavua (the weekly Torah portion). We are studying the stories, themes and values found in each week’s portion in preparation for the coming Shabbat. We love this theme because of the numerous avenues of exploration, and because it gives the entire camp the same educational focus each week. Our counselors work in concert with our Faculty and Education Director to learn the materials, design a program and then to deliver that program to their campers. The campers love it, because the “teachers” are their counselors.
This week’s Parasha is Sh’lach L’cha from the Book of Numbers 13:1 – 15:41.
Therein, God spoke to Moses, saying, “Send emissaries to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one representative from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them.” (Translation from The Torah: A Modern Commentary , copyright © 2016 by CCAR Press.
The spies went to Canaan and observed the land. They saw the beauty and potential it provided. They even returned with grapes they took from a vine in the land. However, they also saw the inhabitants of the land, which from their perspective, appeared to be giants. They described feeling like grasshoppers in comparison. The community shuddered in fear. While the Israelites eventually arrived in Canaan, God made them wander for 40 years until a new generation was ready, free from the memories of slavery in Egypt, to enter the new land.
The themes of this parasha lend themselves well to our story at camp. And if you know me, you know that one of my favorite topics about what we all gain from time at camp is resilience! Through experiencing challenge and overcoming obstacles, people can build a reserve of strength they can rely on later in life when new challenges present. With over 100 new campers this summer, most of them under the age of 12, it’s certainly possible, if not likely, that most of these kids were pretty nervous about entering the new land of GUCI.
What would they find? Would their giant counselors be nice or intimidating? Would they like the food and make friends? Their options were similar to the Israelites; shudder in fear and stay home, or face the fear and move through it. Based on the vibe at camp today, it looks like they all moved through it pretty well!
Similarly, while the roles might be reversed, I’m certain many of our new counselors had some trepidation as the day grew near when their new campers would enter the land. Would the kids like them, listen to them, be energized and inspired by them? Or, would they be disrespectful, not view them as authority figures, or simply not like them. While it is true that our staff are under contract and, aside from quitting, had no choice but to face the fear, our staff did have options in how they faced it. They could jump in feet first, trust the training, show up for the kids with a positive attitude and work through the inevitable and completely normal and expected growing pains of building a large, connected community. Or they could shudder in fear, choosing instead not to engage fully and see what happens. Again, given how things are progressing, we faced the fear and are now reaping the rewards.
I want to dedicate this Shabbat message to our 2023 staff. You were excellent during training, and you’ve risen to the occasion with your campers. Keep up the great work! It’s going to be an amazing summer!
Goldman Union Camp Institute