The Stars Are Still The Sameby Dan Baer October 31, 2017
Several years ago while working as the Associate Director of Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River, Wisconsin (a camp that has now operated for more than 50 years) we welcomed back a group of alumni for an avodah (volunteer work) weekend at camp. The camp was in the process of significant capital improvements including several new buildings that were changing the face of their beloved home. They returned home from their spring visit skeptical to say the least, especially about the new swimming pool – a first ever for Interlaken. At the end of the summer, as part of a project emphasizing the power of the six words of Shema, I collected some 6-word memoirs from staff and alumni. Responses included: “Summer of fun, lifetime of memories,” “Creating magic on four hours of sleep,” “My most challenging yet rewarding summer,” and a personal favorite from an Israeli Shaliach, “No, I don’t own a camel.” The responses, as one could imagine, included a myriad of funny, serious and cliché quotes, but this one from Sarah, a returning staff member and longtime camper, stuck out: “the stars are still the same.” It took a few minutes for me to process. Was it a complaint about change? Was it finding the silver lining? Was it pro-change? The statement was profound and layered in meaning.
Camp Mountain Chai recently completed its 12th summer, making it one of the youngest Jewish overnight camps in North America. As with most 12-year-olds, we are preparing for our own b’nei mitzvah and coming of age. We started as a camp in 2006 where the running joke was that we didn’t have enough campers to even make a circle around our flagpole. Most camp directors would agree that returning staff are the soul of camp, having the greatest impact on the campers as the keepers of our rituals and traditions. Our maturation as a camp is showing through our growth in our Staff-In-Training programming, blossoming from just four participants two years ago to double digits each of the past two summers. This growth grounds our core and traditions, giving us a more stable identity, and allows us to add supporting layers to our onion.
In 2015, we were forced off of our property due to the Lake Fire, operating our first session at another facility. Moving into the next summer, we had returning campers attend CMC without having ever set foot on the property. As we watch camps around the country, including here in California, struggle with fires and other natural disasters, we hold comfort in the fact that camp is camp. Not a building, structure, event, or person will define or encapsulate the true meaning of a ruach-filled camp experience. This past summer we reworked our Shabbat morning experience, rebuilt our teatron (amphitheater) added brand new mountain biking and martial arts programs and equipment, unveiled Hebrew-based signage around camp, and opened a sensory space for campers needing to calm themselves. We replanted 200 saplings to help replenish the forest after the Lake Fire and rejuvenated trails that had been closed for two years.
The ‘new’ has helped us stay centered and hold true to our mission of creating a community to inspire a love of Jewish living. We use this as a springboard, not a limit in building our community. Home is where your family is and “the stars are still the same”. A
Dan Baer is the Camp Director at Camp Mountain Chai. He can be reached at Dan@campmountainchai.com or 858-499-1330.