By Elizabeth Kaplan, Alum
In June 2012, I drove my little blue Nissan Versa with its Rhode Island license plates from San Francisco up to Arlington. I distinctly remember having trouble with the intercom at the gate (we’ve all been there), and then I heard Briana Holtzman’s friendly voice saying ‘come on in!’ Despite being brand new and having never been to Jewish camp, I was welcomed with open arms into a community that would become a huge part of my life. At the time, I thought this was a one-time summer, a blip on my journey to graduate school, and something I would enjoy but eventually mostly forget. Hopefully I’d make a friend or two, and maybe we’d even keep in touch. As I have come to know and love about Jewish camping, that is never the way the story goes.
I came to Kalsman for the first time as the Garden Educator. I was in a magical position called ‘out of cabin specialist’ where I was able to garden and teach campers during the day and play Settlers of Catan at night. Sounds like paradise, right? It’s not a coincidence that an immersive environment free of distraction from cell phone service is a place where one could form strong relationships with others. And, as it happens, one of those strong relationships blossomed into a relationship with my husband, David. We met minutes after I drove through the gate. I’m sure he noticed me first, since I was the new person. But he caught my eye shortly thereafter, and after a short period (equal to months in the ‘real world’) of miscommunication, we were inseparable.
After camp ended, we visited each other (from Pittsburgh to Boston) and spent winter breaks in Seattle. I would be lying if I said it was easy, but I always felt the support of the community around us who encouraged us to push through the hard times and reminded us how much we loved each other. In 2014, we were able to merge our lives in Boston. We got our first pet, moved a few times, I learned how to ski (thanks, David), and we bonded with each other’s siblings. We spent summers apart while David worked for the URJ’s Six Points Sports Academy, and we celebrated as each of us finished graduate school. In 2016, we invited our community to join us at Kalsman to celebrate our marriage – officiated by our camp friends, Rabbis Avi and David Fine. I will never forget the feeling of love that weekend and the joy of sharing Kalsman with people who hadn’t seen the place we found each other.
In 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, we welcomed Solly into our lives. He loves to be outside, tries to understand how everything works, and wears his heart on his sleeve. He has more energy than any human being I’ve ever met. When he arrived, we felt enveloped with the warmth of the community we hadn’t been with in years through gifts, cards, kind words, check-ins, and coming to share in a virtual baby naming. Beyond each other, throughout our time at Kalsman, we gained a network of friends who show up for us, and we do the same for them. The shared experience of being in a community so holy and special is something that bonds people for life.
We now live in New Haven, CT where we recently purchased our first home. David no longer works professionally in camping, but I am the Community Care Director at Camp Laurelwood, a local Jewish Day and Overnight Camp. He now plays the role of ‘camp spouse,’ which he says is the best job on campus. Last summer, Solly spent his first summer as a camp kid – he couldn’t have been happier, and it was a gift for us to share camp with him.
David and I often reminisce about the summer we met and the summers that followed. We joke that we are lucky to have avoided the perils of online dating as described to us by friends. But mostly, we are so grateful for finding each other and for gaining such special memories with our camp people. Thank you, Camp Kalsman, for being our everything. We wouldn’t be us without you.
Shabbat Shalom, Camp Kalsman!