From Day Camp to Director Team: Wilson Baer’s Farewell

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. This place still feels like home and it always will. And in the end it feels like home not as much because I come here and I know everyone, but instead because I come here, and everyone knows me for who I am and I can truly be myself.

By Wilson Baer, Assistant Director. After 23 years as a Day Camp camper, overnight camper, staff member, Unit Head, and Assistant Director, Wilson will be stepping down from his role at Eisner this October. On Friday, August 11 we honored him during Shabbat t’fillah. This blog was originally presented as a speech to all of camp during that Shabbat service.

Ancient Greek philosophers spent years debating over a question that they called The Ship of Theseus. As the story goes, Theseus returned triumphant from Crete having slain the Minotaur and to honor him the people of Athens displayed his ship in public, for all to see. The ship remained there for years on end, but eventually, as happens with wood, some of the planks began to rot. Whenever a plank was falling apart it was removed and replaced with a new one, and this process continued for centuries until even the replacement planks had been replaced and there was no longer a single original piece of wood on the Ship of Theseus. The Greek philosophers argued about whether or not the ship could still be said to be Theseus’s, even if no piece of it was the ship Theseus had sailed on. Indeed, both sides had their own arguments, but they could never agree upon a single answer. Think on that for a little bit, I’ll come back to it.

Twenty-three years ago my parents decided that I was old enough to attend day camp, that I needed something to fill my days during the summer. As they looked at this camp and that, they eventually settled on Eisner for one reason. It wasn’t the facilities that stood out, or that it was Jewish camp (though both of those things were nice), in the end it was the fact that it was the only day camp where they wouldn’t have to pack me a lunch. That one decision has shaped my entire life. Camp, though it was only 20 minutes down Route 7 from home, quickly became my second home. As I grew up here I became myself here. I found my best friends here. Year after year I learned, grew, laughed, played, loved my time at Eisner. I hold my memories of these years dear, and I could tell stories for hours of my years at camp, stories that I retell with friends whenever we meet, but that would take much too long, so I won’t, except for one that I’ll save for the end.

After Olim ’06, as my time as a camper came to an end, I was faced with the decision whether or not to continue at camp as Machon and then a counselor. In the end, there was no debate, I wanted to be able to give back to the place that had given me so much and in doing so I discovered something new to love, something new that I couldn’t have foreseen, helping others to grow. Tzofim ’08, Ofarim ’09, Olim X, Olim Oleven, Tzofim ’12 (priceless), Tzofim ’13, and Olim ’14 (is a mango) each year I had the opportunity to help a group of campers grow and perhaps the most rewarding part of my job now is that I get to see those campers of mine continue to grow, years after their time as campers has ended.

For this last phase of my time at camp, as an assistant director, I have had the chance to take this home of mine, this place that I love, and help to make it even better. I get to work every day of the year to make Eisner the best camp that it can be. I interview my own campers and hire them for their first job. And even beyond that I’ve had the chance to reach out to people who don’t know Eisner, find them, and hire them, bring them in, help them find a home at Eisner.

But back to the Ship of Theseus. When I meet up with my camp friends, or when they come to visit Eisner, the most common question that I receive is, “what’s different?” What’s changed?” Always wanting to know what improvements have been made or what old buildings have come down. And certainly, in 23 years, a lot has changed. Cabins have come down and gone up, one chadar ochel has been replaced by a gym and a NEWF has been replaced by a NEWT has been replaced by a chadar ochel has been upgraded to have AC. People come and people go, and I look around at Eisner Camp and yes, it looks very different than it did 23 years ago. Certainly there are buildings that are still around and a few people who are still here, but it is very different. Though even with all of that, it’s still the same camp that it ever was. You could replace every building and every person as the years go on, but this Ship of Theseus would still be the same Eisner that we all love. Because even with all of these changes, when I go into a Bonim boys’ bunk, it’s no different than mine, 17 years ago in Bunk 15. I look around at camp at the campers, Machon, counselors, leadership team, and though the faces are different, I still see Tom, Emily, Emmer, Miriam, Carly, Lindsay, Dara, Ziv, Shappy, Ethan, Ramie, Matt, Alana, DJ, Tori, Emma, Nat, Peter, Roy, Dani, Rachel, Shara, Alexa, and all of my friends with whom I grew up. The faces may be different, but it’s all the same. Even on a smaller scale, the Bunk 15 that I lived in came down five years ago, but still I have an affinity for the bunk that sits in its place, the Bunk 15 that has no piece of the cabin that I called home for two summers. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This place still feels like home and it always will. And in the end it feels like home not as much because I come here and I know everyone, but instead because I come here, and everyone knows me for who I am and I can truly be myself. That’s why this place is home.

Yes, there were better summers and there were worse summers, there always are, but Eisner always undoubtedly has been home. As I walk around camp and as I listen to the songs every space, every lyric is tied so closely to some memory that brings a smile to my face. Over the past few summers my ritual before going to bed is to take a drive around camp. Sometimes it’s a quick short lap, and sometimes it’s a longer trip that goes all the way until curfew, but it always serves the same purpose. It’s my way to reset. No matter what happened during the day, no matter what I am stressed about it’s my way to reset. As I drive and see camp, talk to counselors, enjoy the Berkshire air, check for animals, I am reminded why I love this place, I’m reminded of the 23 years of memories I have of Eisner, and I am reminded why I love this job. Sometimes I just need to stop and look around to see how great this place is, to see why I do what I do.

And now, the daily joy of this job is being able to look out and see my own campers, to see all of them running camp, as counselors, coaches, instructors, unit heads, department heads. I look out at all of you who were my campers, all of you who I now know so well that it feels like you may well have been my campers, all of you who I hired, and I am filled with pride. I look out and see how much you have grown. The sad campers, the quiet campers, the angry, goofy, distracted, distracting, happy, or frustrating campers, I look at you all and all I can do is smile. My heart is full.

And so, as I face my departure from Eisner, I will say something that I first said to a Tzofim Beit Am full of crying campers in 2012, something that I have frequently thought on of late. And I say it to you, Olim ’17, to anyone here who needs it, and certainly I say it to myself. If this place, if Eisner means something to you, nothing will change that. If it means something to you it will continue to mean something to you for years to come. If you come back year after year and work at camp it will be here. If you choose not to, the community here, the Eisner community will always be there for you, the friendships that you have made will not disappear, the lessons that you have learned will not be forgotten, and the growth that you have achieved will not be lost. Sunburns and scraped knees, scratches and bug bites, they all fade. But the memories, the friendships, the lessons, and the joy, they all remain. And no matter how long it is before you return, Eisner will be here waiting with open arms.

Before I finish, a story and a lesson. One of my favorites that I have told time and again because it is so classic camp and the lesson that it exemplifies is one that perhaps the best lessons one can learn at camp. When I was in Olim in 2006 it was announced that there was an Olim boys softball tournament. I tried out for the team and made it with some of my friends. We had practice for a couple days and then the morning of the tournament came. We were all dressed to play, baseball hats, gloves, sweatpants or baseball pants, some of us in cleats, we were ready. We get off the bus at Greylock, Pontiac, Half Moon (the camp doesn’t matter) and we walked towards the field. As we are walking Mike Peaceman (all the best stories involve Mike Peaceman) turns to us and says, “I’m sorry boys, I was wrong. It’s actually a basketball tournament.” So we all looked at each other and said, “Okay, let’s play.” We went and played in our hats, pants, and cleats, and were very quickly eliminated. But we had fun, and more importantly we took a situation that we didn’t expect and made the best of it. Camp is all about trying new things, moving out of your comfort zone, giving something a shot, handling what comes your way that you don’t expect. And that is perhaps the best lesson that I have learned at camp, the way that camp has best prepared me for life. I have continued to come back to camp for so many years because each year I learn valuable lessons such as that and I continue to grow.

And with that, to end, I want to say thank you. Thank you to each and every one of you here (as well as those not here at camp) who have in any way been a part of the past 23 summers (23 summers that if I could start all over again I would). Each and every one of you has shaped this community. Thank you for growing with me and helping me to grow. Thank you for making me smile, laugh, and cry. Thank you for making me think, reflect, and learn. Thank you, for the most incredible moments, hours, days, weeks, months, summers, years of my life, better beyond my wildest dreams. I am who I am because of Eisner Camp, and thank God I came here.