The Jewish summer camp experience is one of love, growth, and holy community. Whether you were in the summer heat of Camp Swig in the ‘70s or walking the rolling hills of URJ Crane Lake Camp just years ago, there is an expectation that you would be provided with the magical experience that is Jewish summer camp. Every year hundreds of campers come through the gates of Camp Kalsman with the expectation they’ll be provided the same experience given to generations before them, and they rely on their counselors to make that happen.
A camp counselor is one of the most important roles at a summer camp, as campers’ experiences are directly involved and influenced by the decisions and programming done by their counselors. Every summer, our summer camp staff work for months with passion and commitment to bring Judaism, creativity, and engagement to programming that happens at camp. Things like all-camp programs, the talent show, Shabbat Shira and so many more important traditions are made possible through the effort of the dedicated staff committing themselves to being at camp each summer.
One of the best programs Kalsman, and other URJ camps around the country, provide is a C.I.T. (Counselor-In-Training) program for teens not quite the age of a counselor and not the age of a regular camper either. At Kalsman, our CITs are entering their senior year of high school and range from the ages of 16-18. Kalsman CITs commit five weeks of their summer engaging in camp activities and living in a cabin of campers learning how to become staff members and embody the values and traditions staff bring to camp each and every summer.
Being a C.I.T. is the balance between engaging in your last year of camp activities as a camper, and transitioning into a well-rounded staff member through hands-on interactions with all units on camp. In the first two weeks of the C.I.T. program, the Machonikim engage in regular camp activities such as playing on the high ropes course, canoeing on the lake, and participating in creative evening programs. This is all in addition to a morning full of engaging and interactive learning opportunities (all led by a C.I.T. director and two advisors) that help each year’s class develop a strong counselor mindset. At the end of the first session of camp, the CITs take an overnight trip off camp (that varies per year) as a great bonding experience. The remaining three weeks of the Machonikim program (during Bet session) is spent living in the cabins with campers as a junior counselor, spending mornings continuing their structured learning as a unit, and then transitioning to cabin programming with an assigned cabin and unit for the rest of the day. Throughout the remaining three weeks there are many opportunities for special C.I.T. evening programs and nights off, as well as having the opportunity to help lead programming and activities for the unit. At the end of the five-week session, camp holds a CIT graduation to celebrate their hard work (complete with staff shirts and certificates as gifts and sweet messages from each cabin to their CIT).
Being able to provide the Kalsman experience to the next generation of campers is a blessing and feeling that is truly unmatched. Going through the C.I.T. program as a participant, advisor, and now director myself, I can truly say being a C.I.T. is one of the best experiences you can have at Camp Kalsman. Being able to learn how to write and lead activities for kids so sacred and special to you as a camper, getting opportunities to be the “villains” of Maccabiah and help magical moments on camp come alive, being able to lead C.I.T’filah and bring a spiritual presence to the community, even the stress and fulfillment of the ever so popular C.I.T. murder mystery night are all reasons I do what I do. There are so many things that make being a C.I.T. at Camp Kalsman unique, but the one thing standing above all is the connection and sense of love and community that comes with experiencing the program together as one CIT class: a group of people who share the same passion for camp as you do and want to be a part of making it the best it can be for years to come.
Spending five weeks of your summer at Camp Kalsman as a CIT is a decision that is invested in love, growth and opportunity. This year’s class is special and when they leave and when they leave I’ll be counting down the days until the next group of C.I.Ts come to camp and get to change their lives and the lives of everyone in our community.
By: Eian Snyder, Machon Director