We always start camp the same way–by teaching campers to acknowledge goodness and express gratitude. Campers get a chance to meet members of our kitchen staff and learn about their lives. We have an amazing number of staff with advanced degrees who speak multiple languages, and they come from fascinating countries all over the world! In the terms of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, we are teaching campers to move from an “I-it” relationship to an “I-thou” relationship. Campers begin to see the kitchen staff as people with exciting and interesting lives rather than associating them only with the job they do at camp (preparing and serving our food).
These skills and shift in perspective take practice. We rehearse the kinds of questions we might ask. One young camper asked, “What kinds of sports do you like?” and another said, “I don’t think they play sports!” “You will be surprised at all the things they do,” replied a counselor. We also practice how to say thank you: Look the person in the eye; use their name; thank them for something specific; say how their action makes you feel; possibly shake their hand; give the person a chance to respond before looking away. It is touching to watch a ten-year-old say to a staff member, “Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to spend with us! It’s been really interesting!” and to see the kitchen staff members reading and holding onto their camper-made thank you notes.
Some people might say this isn’t “real learning,” but we know it is. It is the kind of learning that helps us get along with others and live more enriching lives. Each camper writes their own intention for the Birkat Hamazon, or Grace after Meals. We read one each day after breakfast. One camper wrote that if they were not at camp, “I wouldn’t be noticing all these magnificent things.” Sometimes what we have to teach is not just a new skill or new information, but also a shift in perspective, inviting campers to open their eyes to what is already in front of them.
This week’s featured camper reading
Campers write inspirational readings to introduce various parts of the Shabbat service. This week on Saturday, Olim will lead services incorporating the theme of “All Kinds of Leaders.” Here’s a reading by Mia and Rachel:
This service’s theme is all about being a leader and stepping up as we become Olim. Part of being a leader is listening, communicating, and having the ability to open up to others. These themes are additionally found in the Sh’ma and V’ahavta. The V’ahavta speaks about loving God and opening up to God while the Sh’ma talks about listening to God. These are also the qualities that a good leader has. Now Rachel and I have known each other since Chaverim. Last year in Tzofim, our beds were right next to each other, and each night we had a bedtime ritual in which we always spoke about our days, both the good and the bad–always listening, loving and giving advice to one another. In doing this, Mia and I became closer and understood each other better. This year in Olim, we hope to have the opportunity to listen to every unit from K’tanim to our friends in Olim. By listening, we hope to be able to open up to you and become a better and more cohesive community, just as talking every night did for us.