Written by Briana Holtzman
There’s not one common answer that you’ll get to the question, “What’s your favorite thing about camp?” For some it’s the campfires, climbing the tower, swimming through the afternoon, taking the goats on a hike, singing songs, the mishlachat dance or archery. For others it’s the feeling you get on Shabbat when the whole camp approaches your unit all dressed in white, the routine of closing our nights with siyum, or the way we clap each other awake with a rousing morning mifkad. I’ll admit that it hasn’t always been my favorite thing about camp, but recently I’ve come to really look forward to the first night of camp.
The morning is exciting—cars line 184th Street and excited (and nervous) parents and campers wait for the clock to turn to 9:00am. Bags are unpacked, name tags are made, old friends reunite in between dropping off medication and lice checks and the photo station, and new friends are made the moment you walk into the cabin. Sometimes a few tears are shed – but most of those are by the parents. Campers still get quiet the first time you ask – there’s a real innocence about the first day. Once the last bed is made and the parents have all left, camp just starts to run. For me, the first night was filled with logistics and last minute details to make sure that the first normal day of camp ran smoothly (if you can really call ANY day at camp normal). Somewhere in the midst of the first song session and the last bedtime we threw in a new tradition, an opening ceremony. The ceremony itself is a meaningful reflection on our core values (you can read more about it here: Every Beginning is Another Beginning’s End), but tonight as I stood on the end of that line of eight people I finally realized what was so special.
A lover of routine and consistency, I appreciate having the same role each and every opening ceremony. With a Camp Director on each end, David starts off the ceremony. Every opening evening, I’ve closed it. We are not what makes the opening ceremony special. What makes it special is the space between us. Tonight alone, six people shared their experiences with camp—from the first nervous day on staff at a new camp, to the camper who was here on almost the very first day camp was open, to two alumni of our CIT program, a first time staff member, and campers who have spent summers just waiting for their moment to make a difference in camp and the world. It is not just the stories that were shared tonight that made me see how special this ceremony is, but also the realization that any six people could have joined us at the front with a meaningful reflection on their camp experience. The space between where David and I stood was filled with experiences, love, and a sense of ownership for this incredible place where we spend our summer.
A moment of thanks is owed: To the staff, faculty, CITs, campers, and friends of camp who have participated in the ceremony itself over the years. To the people who have been mentioned in those stories, by name and by association. And to the parents, families, and friends who share with us their campers and have taught them the meaning of being a part of a bigger community.
When your campers return home, they may say that an activity or space on camp was their favorite, but remember that cabins, sports fields, and a great swimming pool are just spaces without the people who transform them. Each opening night is proof that camp is better because of those who enter the gates and I hope that all those that leave the gates are at least a little bit better because of Kalsman… I know I am.