Sam Gessman, Olim ‘16, Olim Staff ‘21, & Cornerstone Fellow
In a summer unlike any other, one thing you can count on is the feelings we experience and the skills we leave camp having learned. Even through a mask, our campers learn the Midot (values) of Chesed – being kind to others, Yira – appreciating the beauty in the world around us, and Bitachon Atzmi – how to be proud of who they are and what they have to offer.
This educational journey of sorts is no more special, readily apparent, and change-making than for our Olim campers. However, especially for Olim, I would tack on one Midah, Manhigut – leadership. As a member of the “Funky Fun Olim ‘21” staff this summer, I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing their growth first-hand. As I met my campers for the first time on Opening Day, they came to Eisner fresh out of a COVID-year when many were isolated from their friends, from their new high schools, and from the experiences that allow them to develop as members of their communities. The second they stepped into the bubble and got adjusted to life here, those campers who endured so much hardship began their journey of rising up as the leaders of camp, of becoming Olim.
Through their Becoming Olim and Kesher educations, Olim began to expand their thinking on what it truly means to lead the camp. They talked about acts of Gimilut Chasadim (acts of kindness), Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), and B’tzelem Elohim (made in the image of God). With brains full of new information, it became their time to put this learning into action.
One of the pillars of the Olim experience is the Bolim (Bonim + Olim) Buddies Program. Each Olimer is paired with a Bonim camper, a pairing of the oldest campers with our youngest full-session campers. This partnership is an amazing way for Olim to demonstrate themselves as the leaders of camp and teach our youngest campers what it means to be an Eisner camper and member of the Jewish community. This year, Olim had a unique opportunity.
I am part of a fellowship called the Cornerstone Fellowship, through the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which is a leadership development opportunity for counselors from over 60 camps across North America. Part of the fellowship is writing and leading multiple programs, two of which must be for campers. For my programs, I decided to do a two-part program in which one built upon the other.
The first program was an Olim-only program. The premise of the program was to continue to teach Olim how to be leaders and good Olim Buddies- this time through writing a program for their Bonim Buddies. The program consisted of a few activities centered around Jewish values to demonstrate to Olim what kind of activities they would need to create for their Buddies. Then, following a discussion, they wrote their very own activities! In the beginning, I was worried about the “what if’s” – what if Olim doesn’t want to write these activities? What if I end up with no activities written at the end of night? Those what-ifs were quickly put to rest. As I walked around, what I saw was an Olim that was engaged, working-hard, and excited at the prospect of creating a program for their Buddies. The activities they wrote were thoughtful, represented a variety of engagement types, and truly showed that they cared about writing a fantastic program for their Buddies.
Violet from Olim has this to say about her experience: “Writing the Bolim Buddies program felt empowering and made me notice how being present is a big form of leadership. My buddy’s reaction when we got to do my own activity was priceless! I could tell how much she looked up to me and how proud she was that her buddy wrote such a cool and fun activity.”
The second program was a Bolim Program. Based on the movie Soul, the Buddies would travel around to different stations together filling in their “Value Passes” (a play on Earth Passes from the movie Soul). The stations were all rooted in different values, from the Blindfolded Obstacle Course to teach Trust, to the Tower Building Competition teaching Teamwork, to the Secret Handshake station teaching Creativity. In all, the program was an absolute success in that everyone had fun and learned a bit more about themselves and their buddies: Bonim and Olim alike.