Benefits of Camp
Homesickness at Camp, Some Pointers
by Rabbi Shlomo Pfeiffer
If your son calls and is homesick, it is important to be supportive and understanding. Encourage him to get involved in the myraid of fun activities and to try not to focus on home. Also, don’t corner yourself by saying something like “try it until Sunday and if you’re still homesick, I’ll pick you up.” This will generally have the effect of having him continue feeling homesick and focus on getting to that date when you ‘promised’ to pick him up. Try to be upbeat and optimistic and focus on your son’s successes and upcoming camp special events or night activities. Please contact our office right away, so that we can work together to help your son.
Camp is Just Fun and Games, Right?
by Rabbi Shlomo Pfeiffer
Playing ball and having fun in a structured Torah environment are commendable aspects of camp life. But camp transcends these basic goals and accomplishes a much higher mission. Camp is about elevating our children, giving them confidence, raising their awareness of their contribution to Klal Yisroel, teaching them the results of concerted teamwork, giving them the life skills of living with others, and allowing them to bask in the thrill of reaching a hard earned achievement. In short, camp can be a very positive part of the successful development of children. Camp can be a vital tool in teaching children important skills for success in life.
Part of Klal Yisroel
Camp can probably best be described as a microcosm of Klal Yisroel. Campers have the opportunity to meet and interact with boys of diverse family backgrounds and minhagim. Each camper comes equipped with his own unique strengths and talents. It is this combination of abilities that creates the symphonic environment called camp, and so too the harmonious relationship of Klal Yisroel.
I recall vividly the last few hours before the Grand Sing, the grand finale of our color war, this past summer. The old dining room was a beehive of activity: Boys were putting together costumes, painting team backdrops, drawing banners and finishing collating their song booklets. A tremendous achdus and unity were displayed. Everyone was working together towards the goal of creating a beautiful Grand Sing. The joy in the room was palpable – you could see it on the boys’ faces. They had a strong focus. Their hands and clothing may have been covered with paint, glitter or wood stain, but their faces shone with joy of knowing that they were on the threshold of a tremendous accomplishment.
We have an event in color war called the Everlasting Project. Basically, it is each team’s effort to build a project that will be used by Camp Romimu for future years. This past year, both teams wanted to produce a monumental project. One team wanted to build a new larger Aron Kodesh for our Elyon Shul and the other team wanted to build a large activity chart that would be mounted outdoors for campers to look and see which activities they were scheduled for that day. I felt that the projects would be too difficult to take on as Everlasting Projects and that they would not be able to successfully completed in three days. But after receiving each team’s eager assurances, I acquiesced.
The staff and campers approached their projects with a tremendous amount of zeal and focus. They sketched and planned. They ordered their supplies and then they embarked on their mission to build beautiful projects. Frames were built, letters were cut and the projects began to take form. After countless hours, the projects were presented. Everyone assembled literally gasped in awe at the beauty and level of detail in each of the projects. A spontaneous applause broke out. Everyone understood the triumph of the moment, the grandeur of what had just occurred. The boys who worked on the projects understood and felt the joy and ecstasy of the moment.
The success of the people who worked on the project was not lost by the campers sitting in the room. They understood the selflessness of everyone involved in putting together these projects. They imagined what it took to be able to accomplish these tasks. And they understood that one day in the future they too might be involved and take part in something like this. On a deeper level, they may have understood that in life if a person strives and pushes and does not give up, any goal is attainable. The lesson to our campers was clear: If you put your mind to something, if something is important to you and you focus on it and put in the effort – you will be successful. You can make a difference.
Most importantly, camp is an opportunity for campers to really grow and to learn. In camp the schedule of activities and special events is fluid and dynamic. Campers have the opportunity to see their counselors and themselves in many settings. Campers learn from their counselors and division heads the proper way to act in varied circumstances. Boys have the opportunity of learning first-hand from their counselor’s positive hashpoa. How does their counselor daven? How does he learn? How does he react when a ball is dropped or a bad play is made? What is really important to the counselor; what are his core values? These are clearly exhibited in camp. The lessons that are seen and learned are indelibly marked on a camper’s memories. The expression ano doma reah l’shmiah (one cannot compare seeing to hearing) takes on sincere significance.
The primary goal of the learning program in camp is to give to campers a geshmake in their learning. Campers are encouraged to excel because they chose to, not for test marks or report cards – but rather because they are enjoying learning. The positive reinforcement that rabbiem are able to convey in a camp setting has motivated many campers to gain a new appreciation and added vigor in their learning. Every week this effort comes to a crescendo when our Shul fills up on Shabbos afternoon with literally hundreds of boys participating in an optional Hasmodo Program. Yes, they do receive prizes, but they have chosen to come and learn on their own and they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that they have chosen to spend their Shabbos afternoon learning.
Before camp begins and throughout the summer, we conduct seminars in staff development with guest mechanchim to train our counselors to be proper role models in every aspect of their day. They are also given tools and techniques in behavior management and proper disciplining methodology. Our counselors are aware of the tremendous responsibility they bear for the positive hashpoa, growth and development of their campers.
“I wish my son would be more responsible. I wish he would take things more seriously.” These are comments and concerns that parents frequently mention to me. As a result of spending summers in camp, campers and staff see that their actions count, that goals can be attained, that people consider their actions and capabilities, and that they are accepted for what they do and how they act.
From the time campers are in bunks they learn the importance of being responsible ‘citizens.’ Campers are responsible for the cleanliness of their bunks, for being on time to davening, learning groups and activities. They are part of a group and their actions affect the bunk. They sense their importance as members of a larger group, of Klal Yisroel, and see how their actions affect others.
As campers graduate to the Elyon division, then to junior staff members and finally to counselors, their responsibility increase. Each promotion is not automatic, but based on their own individual performances. They must earn the respect of their supervisors and their peers. They understand that their future success lies in their own actions.
Over the course of the school year, many boys equate success with their accomplishments in learning. How important it is for the self-esteem to feel that success in any area. That esteem becomes so much a part of a person, that it often breeds the confidence necessary for success in other areas, including those of learning.
This past summer when I would head down to our ropes course, I would often see a certain camper there. He loved the ropes course and would hang out (no pun intended) at the ropes course whenever he had a free period. He was really good at climbing the trees, walking across the tight rope and jumping down the zip line. Over the course of the summer, he spent many hours at the ropes course and really excelled in this area. Many people would ask him to show them his favorite trick – sliding down the zip line upside down! I am sure that this success was great for his self esteem and that he will fondly remember his notable success in this area.
I recall several years ago my son took a woodworking workshop. He enthusiastically partook in his project. When it was done, he proudly showed it to me. It was a simple wooden trivet, but to my son it was a lot more; it was his masterpiece. The joy and pride in his eye that he had built this project, sanded it, assembled and stained it himself turned this project into much more then several pieces of wood. It provided him with the confidence that he could put things together, that he could build things. It was a small measure of success that was very sweet.
Several years ago, Rabbi Avi Schwartz (our Elyon Division Program Head) suggested an idea. Bring Bais Ezra boys to Camp Romimu. Bais Ezra works with people who are developmentally disabled. His idea was to create a bunk in camp of boys from Bais Ezra. The bunk would be fully integrated into the camp and participate in all Romimu activities and events.
Though there was a degree of trepidation regarding the success of this integration, the program has been nothing short of a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. The Bais Ezra boys are so much a part of the camp. They are involved in everything that happens in camp: Zemiros, Hat Day, Color War, activities and bentching. There is really no aspect of the camp in which they do not fully participate. The ruach that is created as a result of Bais Ezra is very hard to describe. Everyone enjoys the Bais Ezra bunk; they want to be near the Bais Ezra boys and they hang out with the Bais Ezra campers during their free time. The zemiros on Shabbos is invigorated by the Bais Ezra campers. The Bais Ezra boys gain so much from the campers, but I think that even more so the campers gain so much from the Bais Ezra boys.
Now, when campers and staff from Camp Romimu see developmentally disabled or handicapped people in the street they think and act differently. They are not uncomfortable. They understand that these are wonderful and good people who have feelings and needs. They understand that everyone can contribute to Klal Yisroel and they are much more likely to go over and say hello, strike up a conversation or give a helping hand.
The American Camp Association (ACA) has several thousand member camps throughout the United States. Motivated by a desire to better understand children’s experience at camp, the ACA conducted a large-scale national research project to measure the outcomes of the camp experience for children . The ACA sought to measure growth in four broad areas: Positive Identity, Social Skills, Physical and Thinking Skills and Positive Values.
Philliber Research Associates, an independent nationally recognized firm, together with the ACA, designed a survey, conducted pilot tests and field tests and then launched three years of survey data collection. In all, over 5,000 campers participated in the pre-camp survey and over 3,400 additionally completed the post camp survey.
The results from this study provide statistical evidence that camp is a positive force in youth development. The overall results showed that camp significantly benefits children in the following ways:
– Children become more confident and experience increased self-esteem.
– Children develop more social skills that help them make new friends.
– Children grow more independent and show more leadership qualities.
– Children become more adventurous and are willing to try new things.
– Children experience increased positive values.
At the end of the summer, I often feel the crescendo of many different forces coming together. The experiences of a summer working and living together create a special sense of achdus, as campers and staff strive together for one goal. It can be compared to an orchestra for which all musicians contribute to create a striking piece of music. The saxophone, the flute, violin and cello all contribute to the masterpiece. The sum of the parts is much greater than each individual’s contributions.
Campers and staff alike learn the sense of belonging, the sense of community, the sense of being part of a greater whole – the sense of what it means to be part of the great symphony that Hashem has created, the sense of working together as part of Klal Yisroel. The growth achieved during the summer, the sense of responsibility gained, and the respect they learn to accord one another are the foundation and the seeds for the creation of our future leaders.
Camp Romimu Seven Skills of Highly Effective Counselors at Camp Romimu
(Presented with permission of the author, Bob Ditter)
Skill #1: Don’t pick up the rope!
Of all the things I say to counselors, this is the one they tell me is the most important and the most useful. When campers challenge you, it may be tempting to get into a power struggle with them. This is so easy to do that even teachers and parents fall into this trap! I call this the emotional tug of war, with you pulling on one side saying, “Look, I’m the counselor, you have to listen to me!” And a child on the other side saying any of a number of things, like, “I don’t make my bed at home, soI don’t have to make it here!” When you get into that struggle, you are actually less effective because children are then reacting to your anger or frustration and not your good intentions. They derive great satisfaction knowing they have “gotten” you!
The most effective way to respond when a child “throws us their rope”is not to pick it up! There are a whole host of things children can say that may trigger us, so it is best to be aware of them and practice how to respond. The following are a few examples:
Camper: “You’re not my parent…I don’t have to listen to you!”
Effective response (spoken calmly): “You’re right; I’m not your parent. And… everyone knows that at camp we all help clean up.” (Then encourage them and move on!)
Camper: “My father/mother is a lawyer… I can get you sued!”
Effective response: Ignore the threat—responding to it would be picking up the emotional rope. Simply, but calmly, state that you are glad the camper’s parent has such a great profession, and you still expect them to clean-up, wash their hands, help out, or whatever the request is that you’ve made of them.
Camper: “My parents pay a lot of money for me to come to this camp! I can do what I want!”
Effective response (again, spoken as calmly as you can): “I’m glad your parents are able to send you here. That’s great! And…you and I both know (remember this phrase, you can use it over and over) that your parents didn’t send you here to be wild. And…everybody knows that part of camp is cleaning up; helping out; going to activities; etc.” Then move on!
The most important part of “don’t pick up the rope” is staying calm.This takes some practice. Make it a game with yourself—that you refuse to let a camper push your button. If they succeed, they win and you lose! (Actually, if they succeed in “pushing your button,” everybody loses!) Also, responding with a sarcastic comeback, while tempting, only encourages many campers to prolong the argument. Sarcasm is just another way of picking up the rope!
Skill #2: Enter their world.
One of the reasons campers do not comply with counselor requests is because they are actually looking to engage you. Behind this desire for attention is a longing for adults to take an interest in their world—their reality. For example, if you encounter a camper sitting on their bed
playing a game or reading a book when they should be cleaning up, instead of simply barking orders, you might take a moment to be interested in what they are doing. This is like seizing the opportunity to gain a window into their world—their interests, concerns and so on. A few moments spent looking at something together in a kind of momentary “time out” with a camper may eventually result in much more compliance on their part.
In this day of instant messaging, cell phones, weblogs and other technical ways of “being connected,” many children long for the simple attentions of a real, present, interested adult.
Skill #3: State your expectations and detach!
This is an especially effective technique to use with Teens, though it works equally well with younger children. The technique has four steps, as follows:
1) When a camper is not complying with a request, like getting to an activity on time or pitching in to do their part of clean-up, state what you expect clearly and simply.
2) Avoid getting into an argument (picking up the rope!) when the camper complains or tries arguing. Remember, most children would rather argue with you than do what it is they are supposed to do.
3) Restate your expectation, simply and without responding to any arguments being thrown your way.
4) Detach. This means walk away! Move on to your next task or the next camper and leave the camper you just spoke with to deal with the dilemma of defying you. If they do defy you, go to skill #7 below.
Skill #4: Redirect!
This technique is used by all parents, day care teachers, school professionals—in short, just about anyone who works with children. When you find campers engaging in some kind of play or activity that is potentially harmful or dangerous or emotionally hurtful to someone else, try redirecting or channeling their energies into a different activity. In other words, capitalize on their momentum and simply move it into an activity that is interesting, but less risky.
At rest hour, for example, left to their own devices, many campers tease one another or get noisy and restless. Creating quiet chess, checker, or card game tournaments can help keep campers occupied in ways that are a change from the hectic pace of camp, but still engaging.
Skill #5: Make campers “right” about what they are “right” about!
Many times campers will try to avoid doing what they are asked by engaging us in an argument. Children today seem especially adept at this diversionary practice, so you need something that works. The most effective way to deal with this is to make campers “right” about what they are right about. For example, if a camper complains about it being too hot, and uses this as an excuse not to do their chore, agree with the part that is “right,” as follows: “You’re right! It is hot!” Pause for a moment and let this sink in, then continue: “and…we still have to cleanup!” Campers may not like your response any better, but it will help you stay out of an argument and move on.
Skill #6: Separate a camper from their audience.
There are times when campers may become highly provocative or resistant to counselor instructions. If you feel a camper is having an especially difficult time, taking them away from their group (or having their group move on without them with another adult to supervise them) may help them settle down. Sometimes campers “play to an audience,” and other times they may simply feel less secure and more threatened in front of their peers. In either case, separating them from their group may help.
Skill #7: Getting back to respect.
When a camper refuses to do something that is expected of all campers, such as cleaning up, listening to a counselor or going to activities, it often helps to take them aside to speak with them. Once you and the camper are somewhat away from the group, say, “I have asked you, in a respectful way, to listen to me (or whatever the request is). Are you telling me that if I ask you in a respectful way, you are going to refuse me?” Then be silent and wait. If the camper is still defiant or provocative, it is time to go to your supervisor with your camper and say, in front of the camper, “I have asked Jason in a respectful way to (name the request—clean up; go to their activity on time; listen while I am speaking to the others; etc.) and he/she has refused.” Your supervisor should then verify this with your camper in front of you. “Is this true, Jason? Is it true that Mike, your counselor, has asked you to (name the request), and they have done it in a respectful way, and you have refused?”
What this approach does is cool the situation down, enlist the support of your supervisor (without you giving up your position as the camper’s primary care-taker) and move the discussion to a higher-stakes level. Most campers comply or begin talking about what they need in order to comply. Campers who are still defiant at this point might need further intervention with the camp director or in a conference call with parents, arranged not by you, but by your supervisor.
In looking at these skills it is important to remember three things. First, campers will more likely watch and emulate to what you do rather than listen to what you say. Whether you know it or not, you are a powerful role model. Behave the way you want your campers to behave. Second, keep your cool! Young or inexperienced counselors think the louder they scream or the more forcefully they speak to campers, the more in awe of them campers will be. This backfires.
Power with children comes through influence, not force. Third, have reasonable expectations. In the short time you have with campers you may be able only to manage their behavior, not change it. The skills above are designed to help you do this. Like any other set of skills, the more your practice, the better you will become. Mastering skills with children not only helps them grow, it helps everyone get more of the good there is to get out of camp.
Chinuch in Greener Pastures
by Rabbi Meir Fryshman
Years ago, when summer camps were originally founded at the behest of our gedolim, they were intended to combat the challenges posed by the loose summer schedule that wasted many precious hours and days, even as it presented various tzniyus issues. In an innovative move, the school day that was traditionally divided between limudei kodesh and limudei chol would now be transplanted from the brick schoolhouse to the wooden camp cabin.
And from the 1940s to this day, the yeshivos found their mate, their partner in chinuch. In the mountainous environment, a child was guaranteed that he could move from davening to diving, from bentshing to bed without ever seeing a TV or computer screen. The schedule would outrace the kids and as the Holy Kotzker, ztz”l, put it: “They won’t sin – they won’t have the time!”
Commenting on the not-so-mystifying aliyos that many bochurim enjoyed in the mountains, Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Greenwald, a renowned talmid chacham who founded and directed the outstanding Camp Kol- Ree-Nah, once remarked: “Concrete can be a chatzitzah [block to spiritual growth] while trees are not.” A noted maggid shiur and former camp learning director explained the phenomenon this way: “A yeshivah classroom is the lecture hall, the campgrounds is the laboratory.” He quoted the great mashgiach Rav Wolbe, ztz”l, telling him at a Torah Umesorah convention that certain lessons in character and middos can sometimes be better learned on a baseball field than from behind a school desk. While in a mussar shmuess you can preach fairness, honesty, and respect for others, on the playing field you can live it.
The challenges faced by our children are much more daunting than those faced by the youth of the 1940s. The economic crunch has forced parents into longer work hours, leaving many children disturbingly under-supervised. Stunning advances in technology are laced with attendant perils that compromise kedushas Yisrael. Parents find themselves clueless when it comes to combating the very dangers that they themselves introduced into their homes.
Several figures in the yeshivah world have begun exploring a tentative solution to the challenges posed by the summer months: extending the school semester into the summer, ensuring that our students will be contained within their usual rigid structure and routine. While well-intentioned, this solution overlooks the unique opportunities that summer camps alone can provide. Simply extending the school semester cannot reproduce the benefits of the camp experience, and many children stand to lose in the long run if they are forced into yet additional weeks of the school experience.
While schools do their admirable best to enforce, outlaw, and stamp out problematic situations, camps by definition remove children from the problems that cannot be removed from them. Campers are transported into a pristine environment where many of the city’s pollutants simply aren’t present. No internet, no wi-fi, no texting, no videos; instead, campers are surrounded by music that reminds us who we are and where we come from and glatt-kosher entertainment that elevates the soul. This is chinuch at its “greenest.”
On a more individual basis, the talmid(ah) who “doesn’t quite make it” in the standard structure of the daily yeshivah and Bais Yaakov curriculum might begin to slip between the cracks of the school system. In many such cases, camp provides a safety net. In the camp environment, there exist additional less-text-based areas for achievement. Children can discover yet untapped and still submerged gifts and talents in new arenas of success. Self-discovery and a sense of fulfillment often become a new basis and foundation on which to build for the upcoming school year. And how can one evaluate the value to one’s neshamah of living four or eight weeks without seeing chillul Shabbos?
Our gedolim, then and now, recognized the yeshivos’ and Bais Yaakovs’ need for a junior partner as they demanded an escape from the unseemly treif city streets and the pritzus found even in our frum neighborhoods. In the days when the world was a safer place, they saw the need to nestle our youth far from those long hot “city summer streets.” We can only imagine that today they would embrace and invigorate this chinuch partner/provider that they helped create.
Yes, the camps have grown, even as the world shed all pretenses at decency. As davening, learning, masmidim and night sedorim envelope the activities in a cloak of chinuch, the vital role that camps play in the life of yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs cannot be exaggerated. In their role as a yearly complement to the yeshivos, they have come to be virtually indispensable.
How to Help Your Child Have a Great Time at Camp
by Bruce Muchnick, EdD
Camp makes it easy for kids to have fun, relax and experience the spontaneous joys of childhood. A summer at camp is often perceived by; children, parents, community leaders, clergy and social service agencies as a respite from the strains of everyday family life and the pressures and tensions of school.
To help your child have a successful time at camp this summer…
Think of camp as a learning experience. Sending your children to camp offers a wonderful opportunity for both you and your children to practice “letting go” — an experience that can contribute to the development of healthy independence.
Don’t buy a whole new wardrobe. Camp is more rugged than life at home. A child doesn’t need new clothes… and having well-worn clothes and familiar possessions will help ease the transition. This is especially important for first-time campers.
Listen to and talk about concerns. As the first day of camp nears, some children understandably experience uneasiness about going off to camp. Rather than acting on what you believe his feelings to be, ask good questions such as: “We’ve been busy packing your gear. What are your thoughts about your program?” Communicate your confidence in his ability to handle being away from home and remind him about “small victories,” successes he has experienced in other situations.
Have realistic expectations. Camp, like the rest of life, has high points and low ones. Not every moment will be filled with wonder and excitement. At times, your child will feel great while at other times he may feel unhappy or bored.
Solution: Try to maintain within yourself — and encourage within your child — a reasonable and realistic view of camp by mentioning “ups and downs.” Opportunities for problem solving, negotiating, developing greater self-awareness and increased sensitivity to the needs of others can help your child cope with successes and failures in everyday life. Resist sending your child off to camp feeling pressured to succeed. Just relax and have fun.
When your child is at camp…
Observe camp policy about phone calls. Many camps, for instance, discourage phone calls during the first few days. It often takes kids a week or so to adjust to being away from home. A call from home might disrupt the settling-in process. Furthermore, it is difficult to figure out how a child is adjusting to camp during a long-distance phone conversation.
Communicate in writing. Summer camp offers kids and parents the chance to develop a rarely practiced skill — letter writing. Write as often as you want. Keep in mind that this is your child’s connection to home and family. Email is wonderful and quick. Your letters should be upbeat. It’s fine to write that you miss your child, but don’t include things like “The house is so quiet without you” or “the baby misses you.”
Better: Ask specific questions in your letters about your child’s activities… bunk life… friends, etc. This will help him organize his letters home.
Packages are appreciated every now and then. But don’t send food — it’s disruptive if some kids in the cabin receive food packages and others receive nothing. Receiving food packages is contrary to camp policy. If your child asks you to sneak food packages, don’t. Even if you think the rule is silly, breaking a camp rule might interfere with your child’s sense of right and wrong.
Better: Send postcards, cartoons, newspaper and magazine articles, comics, game books, puzzles and other items that can be shared with friends.
Don’t make major changes at home. This is not the time to move to a new neighborhood, sanitize or gut and redecorate your child’s room or get rid of his fossilized frog collection. Help your child cope at camp. Most kids need a few days to adjust to life at camp and being away from home. During this time, kids miss their parents, friends and familiar surroundings. Most kids cope with these concerns and — with the help of camp staff — build support systems. If your child’s letters contain urgent pleas for you to bring him home, resist the temptation to rush to camp. Avoid making deals, such as “Give camp one more week, if you’re still unhappy, we’ll bring you home.” This is sure disaster.
Better: Support your child’s efforts to work out problems with the help of the director and the camp’s staff.
Communicate your love and confidence in your child’s ability to work through problems. Remind him, if necessary, that he has made a commitment for the summer. Overcoming a longing for home, dealing with upsets in the cabin and learning to care for oneself are important challenges to be faced at camp.
Important: Talk candidly with the camp director. Allow the director and staff an opportunity to apply their expertise in helping kids adapt to the routines of camp life. Listen to the advice of the camp director. Remember, he’s been doing this for many years and has been very successful. Most adjustment difficulties can be worked through. Later, your child will thank you for the encouragement to stay.
Kids Speak: What is Camp All About?
(From the American Camping Association)
Here’s some of what they said:
Can you think of things you learned and did at camp last summer that helped you in school this year?
– I was more confident, wanted to know everything, was excited to be in school and good grades in 7th grade (12 year-old female).
– I learned mostly about how to get along with my peers but, also I learned to take on more responsibilities (13 year-old male).
– My experience helped me look at challenging situations differently and instead of giving up, finding a way around them (14 year-old female).
– Last summer I learned a lot about how to control my anger (13 year-old female).
– I learned better sportsmanship and listening skills that helped me bring up my grades in behavior (11 year-old male).
– I learned how to be on my own without someone with me all the time (12 year-old male).
– I learned to have more patience and to appreciate the things I have (10 year-old female) .
– I feel that I am better at interacting with friends and family. The people skills learned at camp affected me dramatically when I went home (15 year-old male).
– Leadership, organization, water-skiing, make my bed, keep my stuff clean, to keep in touch with my friends, respect, how to handle pressure (13 year-old female).
Do you feel differently about yourself when you are at camp?
– I feel differently because I feel like I am accomplishing something by being here (13 year-old female) .
– At school there are defined groups of people, but at camp, everyone feels wanted (15 year-old female).
– Yes, because I’m with people my age and people who respect everyone (11 year-old male).
– At camp I think that I can do more and be proud of myself (13 year-old female).
– At camp I have a personality that is different from home. I’m less cautious to do fun or exciting things. I don’t feel as alone as I sometimes do at home (14 year-old male).
– When I’m at camp, I feel that I can be more open with myself and others. I tell people things at camp I wouldn’t speak of back home. I feel so much – – more in tune with myself here and I can discuss issues so much more openly (15 year-old male).
– I don’t have to be fake to anyone. Everyone here accepts me, as I am and I’m not judged or criticized (15 year-old female).
If explaining camp to friends, what would you say you learn here?
– I learned to listen to what other people say (10 year-old male).
– I learned a lot of team work skills (13 year-old female).
– You learn how to relate to people on a level deeper than that of school or everyday life because you live together. (14 year-old female).
– I learn a lot about respect and my real values in life, what they really should be (14 year-old female).
– Values like how to be responsible and respectful (13 year-old female).
– You learn how to cooperate well with others who share and don’t share the same opinions as you (15 year-old female).
– I learned to have fun, be a leader, discipline, and most of all – respect (12 year-old male).
– You learn how to make new friends, learn different sports, and learn that camp can be a very good part of summer! (9 year-old female).
Parents at Risk
by Rabbi Yossi Rosenberg
“Who did this job for you?!”‘ he exclaimed. “The entire thing wasn’t done right. I’m gonna hafta do the whole thing over from scratch.”
What was different about this story, though, was the homeowner’s answer. “Uh,” he hemmed, “actually, you did this job, sir. Fifteen years ago. Remember?” The plumber had the good graces to blush as he remembered that, indeed, he himself put in the plumbing in that home all those years back.
Often, we look around at the generation under ours and we exclaim, “Look at today’s generation. In our day, we were much more giving, much less self-centered. Today’s kids. . . they seem so messed up. So many issues.” We raise our hands in defeat, worried for our children yet feeling hopeless to change anything.
Like the plumber, though, we forget one factor. Who brought up today’s children? Who “did this job,” so to speak? None other than we, today`s parents. If the job was a lousy one, we ourselves might be at least partially to blame.
Before we continue the discussion, there is a new study which we would like to bring to the reader’s attention. The faint-at-heart reader may wish to sit before continuing. The study was done on the topic of ‘today’s kids,’ and the results may be somewhat shocking.
Fact #1: Kids today are not born anymore spoiled than were kids yesterday.
Yes, we like to wring our hands in frustration as we vent to our friends or co-workers about our latest run-in with our teenagers, “Today’s kids are just so spoiled,” we cry, and everyone around us gives that knowing shake of their head. It turns out, though, that today’s kids are not – inherently – spoiled. Kids are born the same way they were born yesterday. If today’s kids are indeed spoiled, it can only mean that today’s parents must have spoiled today’s kids.
This is not a comfortable thought, but logic is hard to refute.
The study uncovered another astonishing fact:
Fact#2: No child-ever- was born with a cell phone, mp4 player, or any sort of wireless gadget in his hand. Zilch. Zippo. Not one kid.
This means, that every one of ‘today’s kids’ who has any of these gadgets-yes, every last one of them- had to procure it. An unscientific survey further reveals that well over ninety percent of ‘today’s kids’ got their cell phones, downloadable gadgetry, or other similar device from-guess who?- today’s parent!
One more fact:
Fact #3: Contrary to popular belief, ‘today’s kids’ are not innately wired with a drive to “do whatever they want” anymore than were kids for past millennia.
So while we cry over our children’s seeming disregard for our wishes, our sensitivities, or our direction, we seem to overlook the fact that it is today’s parent who is bringing up today’s children. We, the parents, have thrown away many of the ‘old-fashioned’ concepts with which we were brought up. We wholeheartedly embraced the progressive idea that it is somehow a good thing for children to be very independent and assertive. Yet, we are then curiously surprised somehow when we find our independent and assertive ten-year old suddenly doing his own thing with hardly a thought to heed that which we desire for him.
We read more and more about the nisyonos, the tribulations, faced by children growing up in today’s world. We hear horrific stories about how, thanks to modern technology, the worst depravities are available almost instantly right in the dorm room, the classroom, or even in the back of the bais medrash. We shake our heads and hold up our hands as we bemoan the ‘fate’ into which ‘today’s kids’ have been born.
Then we go out and hand them these very gadgets.
Can we then still honestly say that this issue has ‘befallen’ our dor, our generation? Is anyone suggesting that more than perhaps the tiniest minority of kids stole the gadgets or bought them on their own? Isn’t it true that the overwhelming majority of ‘today’s children’ had these dangerous tools given to them by their parents?
This leads us to a question we must ask of ourselves: Are many of the new and tragic problems we face today a reflection of today’s children, or rather of today’s parents?
It is true that children do not grow up in a vacuum. The world has degenerated to such an extent that depravity has become normal and commonplace. Worse yet, what was once normal is today looked upon as extreme or even fanatical. As a result, today’s children surely do live in a reality far different than the one we knew when we were growing up.
At the same time, one can never minimize the overriding innocence of the home in which a child is brought up. Who decides just how much of the values, literature and gadgetry of today’s world will be allowed to enter the home and influence the child’? The six-, eight- or ten-year-old boy or girl’? Or the parent? It is we who make these decisions, and if we are not making them but instead allow things to simply flow unchecked, we – as parents – are being utterly negligent.
The issues confronted in the chinuch of our children today are complicated. We do not seek in this column to over-simplify the matter, nor to lay blame in any specific situation where something goes wrong. Often, a parent or a school tries their hardest, and yet they find themselves confounded by factors outside of their control. In addition, regardless of our best efforts, a certain amount of the degenerative amoral atmosphere prevalent today will seep through into even the best of homes.
However, so long as we open our doors wide and deliver the worst sorts of tumah right into our children’s very hands, we have forfeited the right to wring our hands and ask what can be expected of us in the battle over the hearts of ‘today’s children. If we give in to our child’s nagging in order to save ourselves from hardship, heartache or discomfort, we cannot then turn around and exclaim-about the state of ‘today’s children. If we embrace progressive theories from questionable sources in the education of our children, we cannot later blame the growing number of social, emotional and spiritual faults we are finding in this post-modern generation at the feet of today’s children.
Today’s children have it hard enough as it is; we need not confound their difficulty by abusing our responsibilities as today’s parent.
Many years ago, a young woman was killed in a terrible car accident in Eretz Yisroel. The shock, disbelief and mourning into which the entire community was plunged can hardly be imagined. A young person taken during the prime of his or her life always shakes us up. When the loss is sudden, and takes place under such dreadful circumstances, the pain is magnified manifold. There was a palpable feeling that the accident was a sign of Divine dissatisfaction.
A levaya was held, and the entire community attended. Many respected rabbonim and roshei yeshivos spoke. The terrible loss was moumed, and the assembled crowd was exhorted to strive· towards betterment, to improve in important areas such as Shabbos, kashrus and tznius, so as to turn away any further Divine wrath. The crowd, raw with emotion, was indeed inspired towards greater alacrity in shemiras hamitzvos.
There was one rov who got up and said something somewhat different. It is well-known and documented that reckless driving is insanely commonplace on Israeli roads. It is equally documented that these terrible driving habits do indeed lead to a higher percentage of driving accidents and road fatalities. (lt is possible that the accident which took the life of the young woman involved an element of reckless driving as well.)
“It is surely true,” stated the rov, “that particularly because of the dangerous driving conditions, we need even more Divine protection than usual. There is no doubt, therefore, that we need to improve in all areas of religious observance, and especially in Shabbos, kashrus and tznius.”
“However,” the rov continued, “there is another thing that is equally true: As long as people continue to drive with reckless carelessness, the danger of yet more terrible deaths on the road will remain!”
No doubt these words took some by surprise, but hopefully they infused the crowd with a dose of sobering reality regarding the absolute necessity to behave responsibly on the road and always.
Perhaps our situation is not too different. We can seek guidance as to how to deal with today’s children and the many nightmarish issues and nisyonos they face. We can daven for the success of our children and that they always keep good friends and enjoy a healthy environment.We can do our utmost to teach our children the way of Hashem. Surely, we must do all of the above and more.
Yet, if we, the parents, as well as the schools, are ever negligent in our actual parenting, the dangers will remain, and we will find that today’s parents might be to blame for the way today’s children grew up.
We need not elaborate on just how difficult it is to refuse the nagging of a child. This is especially so when the nagging is persistent and performed when we are at our weakest moments. Children and teens sense this, and they specialize in taking optimum advantage of precisely these moments.
It is up to us to be strong. The physical, emotional and spiritual health of our child depends on our inner strength. If we fall and give in, it is a weakness on our part. It is a failure of today’s parent, not of today’s child.
Often, we dress our children as per some mad fad, buy them toys that are all the rage, or allow them certain questionable liberties, when we know deep down that these decisions are neither wise nor healthy for our children. We do so perhaps because our friends or neighbors are doing the same, and we want to feel accepted and not left back. Of course we tell ourselves that it’s our children whom we are afraid might feel left out.
It behooves us in all these sorts of situations to ask ourselves whether we are truly worried about our child, or if we are perhaps demonstrating a weakness on our part. Are we blaming our child for our inability to live on a different standard than our neighbor? If we are, we are victimizing the child, who will be brought up suffering due to our lack of fortitude, self-esteem or self-respect.
Being a parent is no easy task. Advice and chinuch courses may be helpful, but we have to be willing to do our part first We must work on our own middos. We must make sure that we are always putting our child’s long-term interests ahead of our own short-term gain. It isn’t pleasant to say no to a child (and we should never say no for no good reason); but when the reason is compelling, we dare not give in simply because we are not willing to face the tough moments of parenting.
We give our child inoculations even though we know he will cry. We insist that he eats his supper first, even though he really wants his dessert. We make sure that he gets a healthy amount of sleep at night ,even though “all of his friends’ mothers let their kids stay out later.” It’s not always easy, but we do it for our children.
Social, emotional and spiritual risks are no less important than physical ones. On top of that, the stakes are higher today than they were in recent memory. There is less room for failure or error. With the danger and risks to our children ever present in the background, let’s make sure that we, the parents, are not one of them.
This article was written l’zechus refuah sheleimah for Baruch ben Baila.
Successful Camp Experiences
By Rabbi Avi Shulman
– “I had a great time.” For a camper to return home happy and healthy, after several weeks of camp is no small feat. We have to thank Hashem, the counselors and all of the camp staff.
– “I had a great time, and I learned to swim (or any other skill). Many camps strive to teach children new skills and if this has been accomplished, the camp and the counselors can both justifiably be proud of their accomplishments.
But must it only be that? Maybe it could also be: This summer we want to advance to a new level. Ideally, we want a camper to describe his or her summer experience like this (obviously children, or adults, for that matter, do not speak this way, but if we were to verbalize, this is what they might say-or at least think, to themselves)
– “I had a great time, I learned how to swim, but I also learned that I could acquire any new skill. I feel so much better about myself. I have found new self confidence. I am going to become a better person and a better student.”
For a moment, join me in an imaginary snapshot of the future. The unkempt, disorganized, awkward 10-year old boy or girl of 2010 is now a poised, gracious, self confident adult. The boy is now a husband and a father, a ben Torah and a baal middos tovos. He says a Daf Yomi shiur, is the pillar of his community and a role model for younger children. The former young girl is an extremely successful woman, wife, mother and community worker. She is a yerai’ah Shomoyim, baalos middos, and a wholesome person who is genuinely comfortable with her yidishkeit, family, place in life and most importantly, herself. She is forthright, honest, supportive, calm, and a steady source of inspiration to all who know her.
If we asked them to tell us, the secret of their unusual disposition they may say, “I wasn’t always like this! Far from it. I was scared, awkward, self conscious youngster who managed to do everything wrong. But I spent a remarkable summer in camp where I was surrounded by a group of inspiring counselors. They only saw my good points. They encouraged me. They nurtured me. The counselors believed in me.”
“THEY BELIEVED IN ME BEFORE I BELIEVED IN MYSELF.”
“I was so infused with self confidence that I made up my mind that I wanted to become like them. With Hashem’s help, I became the person you see.”
Does that sound like a fantasy? You may be interested to know that I have been witness to such scenes many times and I have heard these very words actually spoken.
People can and do change….especially if we provide ideal circumstances for change. No place is better equipped for nurturing healthy feelings and positive change than a summer camp.
Camp is more than a good time ….. for many children it could be the key to a good life.
– All inclusive
– A laboratory of middos and derech eretz
– An opportunity to learn non-school subjects
– Association with role models
– Small groups
For counselors, it is an opportunity to exercise leadership and organizational skills, chinuch and preparation for parenting. It is loaded with opportunities to help children in a most meaningful area – their self esteem.
Summer Camp: Then and Now
A Frank Discussion About Some of the Pros and Cons of Today’s Camping System by Rabbi Avrhom Birnbaum
(Yated Article Reprinted with Permission)
Just by perusing the ads and reading the spirited exchanges in the Readers Write section of the paper analyzing whether the price tag for a summer in camp is justified or not indicates that the lazy days of summer are once again on people’s minds.
As for me, whenever I think about camp, I am filled with a deep sense of nostalgia and spiritual longing. Yes, I was one of those kids for whom the ruchnyius of camp, the spiritual hashpa’ah of one month during the summer, made a greater impression than the rest of the school year.
I thrived in the informal ruchniyus that camp provided. It somehow injected me with much more of a spiritual booster than the forced, formal classroom setting. I experienced something so special in camp that it is hard to convey with mere words. Perhaps it was the near perfect synthesis of ruchniyus and gashmiyus, the combination of wholesome fun, recreation and real spiritual nourishment – not simply formal learning groups, but even more, the informal settings for learning by example. There were the Shabbos seudos infused with such ruach that, although we were embarrassed to admit it, we wished they would never end.
Without a doubt, the greatest impression and spiritual boon that I and my chaveirim gained from camp was the connection with our counselors. Yes, our counselors, mere teenagers, yeshiva bochurim ranging somewhere between 16-19 years old, had a hashpa’ah on us that was immeasurable.
They were true Bnei Torah, who learned well throughout the year and clearly viewed their counselor experience as an opportunity for fun, as a break from their very full learning schedules during the other eleven months, and also as an opportunity to inject in their young charges a geshmak in Yiddishkeit.
They were fun-loving teens, albeit with a serious side, a side that represented their youthful enthusiasm – for ruchniyus, for yeshiva, for the concept that every Jewish child could become a Ben Torah and eventually shteig and thrive in yeshiva. We adored them and looked up to them as nothing less than great figures. They could play sports, make jokes and act in plays, while simultaneously being serious about ruchniyus – davening with kavanah, and learning during learning groups and at night after we went to sleep.
In school, we may have viewed the pursuit of ruchniyus as something one was forced to do. The teacher and the principal were doing their job; they were on top of us and forced us to learn. In camp, however, the ruchniyus was injected in such an unthreatening way, with such sweetness, that until today, when I close my eyes and transport myself back to camp, I can still feel the ruach of Shabbos zemiros and even the spirited ‘Boruch hu uvoruch shemo’ and ‘Amein’ of the daily chazoras hashatz.
Even after camp ended, we would correspond with our counselors in their respective yeshivos. They wrote to us, because they developed a true spiritual bond with us and naturally wanted to stay connected. Until today, those letters are among my most cherished possessions. The letters were a combination of small talk, jokes, and always a component of ruchniyus urging us to join them in their yeshiva after graduation and telling us the importance of properly adhering to Torah and mitzvos.
Here is one small quote from a letter written to me by my counselor a couple of weeks before my bar mitzvah:
‘I want to end off by first wishing you maze! tov and second and most important, I would like to wish that you become a Ben Torah .. At this time of the year, Rash Hashanah, Yom Kippur, when the Yom Hadin comes to all our minds, you should think that Hashem counts the mitzvos and aveiros and every one of them counts … ‘ This is what an eighteen-year-old bochur, a counselor, wrote during Elul zeman following camp to me, a mere bar mitzvah bochur, just before my bar mitzvah. That simple message had far more impact than anything my rabbeim or parents could have told me.
THE TORAH REVOLUTION AND ITS AFFECT ON CAMPS
From my informal, admittedly unscientific survey of camps today, I have come to realize that things aren’t exactly the same as they were back when I was a camper The camps still do a great job of providing healthy, kosher recreation, but the very spiritual bond between campers and counselors is perhaps not the way it was.
The reasons are varied, but one reason is certainly related to the spiritual affluence of our current generation as compared with that of two decades ago. Over the past three decades, Klal Yisroel has experienced nothing less than a Torah revolution. The importance to limud ha Torah, the sheer amount of Torah learned and the various programs and incentives to increase Torah learning among all segments of society is unprecedented in the history of American Jewry and perhaps in the history of Jewry from time immemorial. Just a look at the kollel population, just the fact that the vast majority of Bais Yaakov girls and their fathers strive and daven that they should marry a Ben Torah as a son-in-law, is indicative of the success of the Torah revolution.
The Torah revolution has shown itself in the way that young bochurim spend their summers too. Two and three decades ago, there were only one or two “learning camps” where high school and bais medrash aged bochurim spent a significant part of the day engaged in learning. The lion’s share of bochurim – even top notch, spiritually motivated bochurimspent at least one month serving as counselors and staff members in camps.
A revolution by definition has casualties. I! is not possible to make far-reaching changes in a system, as important as they may be, without casualties. The beautiful ideal of so many yeshiva bochurim spending more of their summers in learning camps and not as counselors has also come with a price. The price is being paid both by the children in the camps and by some of the yeshiva bochurim themselves. The children are missing out on the amazing experience of developing a kesher, bond, with some of the best Bnei Torah whose own youthful enthusiasm has the power to make a lifelong impression on the young hearts and minds of their charges. The yeshiva bochurim also are missing out on the tremendous experience of being role models for young kids, of truly feeling that they have made a difference in the lives of children several years younger than them. They are also missing out on the character building that comes with the responsibility of caring for others and of being responsible for the well being of others. These lessons of accountability and conscientiousness are life-long lessons that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.
IS THE SYSTEM DESIGNED FOR EVERYONE?
Another casualty of the present system is the fact that once learning camps became the norm, those who do not go to learning camps are labeled as “second rate” bochurim. Thus, the ludicrous situation has arisen that in order not to be labeled inferior, scores of bochurim- good, ehr1iche bochurim- who are truly not on the level to be in learning camps throughout the summer and who could benefit tremendously from the change of pace afforded by being a counselor in a regular camp, are forced into the charade and must try to do something of which they are simply incapable. Many bochurim therefore end up, at best, wiling away their time in the summer “learning” camp and really end up with neither the learning nor the tremendous benefits that being in a regular camp has to offer them.
In the viduy of Rabbeinu Nissim redted on Yom Kippur Kotton, we say something that warrants contemplation. When confessing our sins. We say, “That which you permitted, I prohibited, and that which you prohibited, I permitted. it is understandable that permitting something which Hashem prohibited is a sin, but why is prohibiting something which Hashem permitted also a sin? What could be wrong with accepting an extra stringency upon oneself?
I once saw an answer in a sefer. Frequently, accepting additional stringencies comes with an expensive spiritual price tag. When a person accepts upon himself a stringency that is beyond his level, the side effects can be far worse than if he had not accepted the stringency in the first place.
Far be it for this writer to suggest that we change the system or that today’s system, with all of its drawbacks, is wrong. These decisions are ones that have to be made by the Einei Ha’eidah alone, and I am certain that there are very important arguments that support the present system. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that there is a cost for even the most commendable of actions, and both parents and rabbeim should be aware of that price tag, both with regard to the ruchniyus of our campers and that of some of our yeshiva bochurim as well.
What the World Could Learn From Summer Camp
By Matthew Carroll
It first hit me on the first day of camp when everyone was dressed the same – white T-shirt, shorts, sneakers, or flip flops. Kids were dressed the same as counselors; counselors were dressed the same as kitchen staff; and office staff were dressed the same as the head counselors. You couldn’t distinguish the kids whose parents had saved up for months to send their kids to camp from those who had spent the spare change of a week’s pay.
Everyone here was truly equal. While the campers and American counselors recited the Pledge of Allegiance on the opening day, the international staff looked on in silence. Different faiths and different cultures were respected and tolerated. Coming from Northern Ireland this was not only a novelty but something that impressed me. People of all faiths were observing Jewish culture with respect, while back home in Northern Ireland Christians struggle to tolerate the cultures of other Christians.
Camp was about the basics. Mobile phones were banned; Internet access was limited – even electric fans were banned (as kids didn’t have their own personal fans in the interest of fairness, counselors couldn’t either). A strong emphasis was put on keeping camp tidy. If you saw litter on the ground, you picked it up and put it in the bin. Kids were banned from watching television except for special “movie nights.” The surprising thing was that the kids didn’t seem to miss it. Bringing down the veil of technology led to more open conversation between friends, better networking, and unlikely friendships.
During rest periods, I was amazed to see the main campus was absolutely heaving with games of stickball, basketball, tennis, or catch. Older kids played with younger kids; brothers played together; twenty-one-year-olds challenged eight-year-olds to games of chess . . . and lost. Kids were able to play outside in a safe environment the way they used to. Today, with so many concerns about crime, it’s very hard for parents to let their kids go outside to play after breakfast and for them to return after dinner. But, at camp kids are safe.
Everybody knows and trusts each other. At camp there are no locks on the doors. Kids and counselors leave iPods®, PSPs, books, and toys in their empty bunks all day and know those things will still be there, exactly where they were left.
It is this sense of community that made me fall in love with camp. At camp, you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together in your division, otherwise known as your family for two months. Camp meal times are a place for conversation, joking around, dares, games, and occasionally songs. Campers and staff feel completely relaxed, and there is no shame in doing embarrassing things for other people’s entertainment.
So what can the world learn from camp? In short, to let kids be kids. We should be sending children to camp, allowing kids to get the exercise and the fresh air that is so vital to growing up. Camp allows children to spend time with their friends and develop the social skills that are so vital, instead of sitting inside in front of a television set. Adults can also learn that work doesn’t have to be work, it can also be fun. Camp taught me that even though modern technology has opened up so many opportunities for us it can also trap us.
Anyone who has worked at a camp will agree that you won’t understand camp without trying it. Without trying it I wouldn’t have learned as much as I have.
Greetings From Camp
by Rabbi Yitzchok Tzvi Schwartz (Yated Article Reprinted with Permission)
“My friends ask the same question every year.” You’re still going back”? And every time they ask it, I wonder what they’re thinking. Is it a question of admiration, implying, “How do you have the kochos to still do it?” Or are they thinking, “Some fools never grow up. How can you do the same things you did close to forty years ago?”
Truth be told, every year I ask myself the same question, but for different reasons. Bechasdei Hashem, we get our strength and energy from Above. As for the type of work we’ve been doing for decades, it keeps us young at heart. My own hesitations come from the fact that running a successful camp, as is often the case with many progressive endeavors, comes with a load of discomfort and aggravation.
First of all, during the camp season, my own private and family life, which I so value, falls by the wayside. As we have gotten older and more grandfatherly, we have become more sensitive to matters that bothered us much less in our younger years. People don’t realize how disturbing it is when I don’t have a summer job for a boy who has been with us for years. Or how painful it is when I have to inform someone that I· cannot rehire him for the coming summer.
As the years have moved on, the perfectionist in me has grown. And if things are not the way we expect them to be, it is much more bothersome. There is endless paperwork, time spent on technicalities and other various annoyances. Coupled with the long shlep to Cleveland, I am convinced by the time I arrive at camp that` this will be my last season.
But then something happens. The buses arrive and out come the campers with smiles from ear to ear. Staff members return, hugging each other like relatives meeting at a chasunah…only with greater simcha. The camp families arrive with their little kinderlach and the summer kehillah takes shape once again. Literally one big happy family.
And the happiness continues, be ’ezras Hashem, for a full four weeks. This scene takes place in camps throughout the country. Hashem must be smiling at this wonderful display of achdus. Throughout the summer, the overwhelming feeling of happiness in the air makes one forget the hardships and I ask myself, “How can I not continue to do this next year?”
Every year, we learn new things on the job. Every year, we meet new people, both campers and staff, each person a world unto his own. One of the things I don’t cease to marvel at is how much a child can grow over the year. Sometimes a camper returns a totally different boy from the year before.
As parents and teachers, it is hard to see the progress that a child makes throughout the year. It’s like watching a clock. While it ticks away, you cannot see the arms moving. But when you only gaze at it from time to time, you can clearly see its progression. The same goes for children. As a head counselor, I can clearly see the difference in boys from year to year and it is truly amazing. What is especially gratifying is to behold the difference in campers over a period of four or five years. There are boys whom we considered not admitting back to camp the next year because of the trouble they caused throughout the summer. Yet, today, just a few years later, they are choshuveh bnei Torah, serious masmidim in our mesivta program with whom it’s a pleasure to speak in learning.
One of our star staff members, a talented boy and a true ben Torah, was a prime troublemaker as a camper. This year, as he watched me supervise curfew, he related to me one of his after-hour pranks as a camper. Right after he was certain that I had left the premises, he would run through the halls of the dormitory, knocking on all the doors and arousing his friends for some late night revelry. Today, we are proud to have him on our staff as a true role model for others.
This should come as a tremendous chizuk for parents and educators. Because of the advances of modern technology, we have become accustomed to getting results immediately. Hop into the car and you’re at your destination in no time. Pop the food into the microwave and you have an instant dinner. Now, when things don’t happen immediately, we tend to get frustrated and irritable. But especially when it comes to matters of ruchniyus, things don’t happen overnight.
As parents, we can sometimes talk to our kids till we’re blue in the face and think, “Oy, what’s going to be with this child?”. Take heart. Kids don’t remain kids forever. They get older, they mature, and they eventually have their own aspirations to better themselves. But maturity does not necessarily come at the time we expect it to come. As I once heard from a mechanech, “Katnus is a mum oiveir – Childishness is a passing blemish.”
As mechanchim, we can never dismiss anyone as a failure. I’ve seen so many times how boys who weren’t stars in the classroom grow up to be big lomdim. Often, they become stars in the classroom as rabbeim and the mischief they caused in their early years is now transformed into a personality which is much appreciated by their talmidim, Yet others who aren’t big lomdim or mechanchim have used that excess energy to become major askanim in their respective communities and wonderful spouses and parents. Because of their early experiences as children, they have a better understanding of their own students and progeny.
Isn’t this the story of Rabi Akiva? At the age of forty, he was an ignorant shepherd. To his master, Kalba Savua, he was merely a servant. But Rochel, his daughter, saw in him special characteristics that weren’t apparent to others. With her encouragement and dedication, he blossomed to become from the greatest Tanaim. How different would Yiddishkeit be today without the great contributions of Rabi Akiva to the arrangement of Torah Shebaal Peh? How invaluable was the wisdom of his wife, Rochel, who saved him and his great talents from the oblivion that would have been cast upon him by people who viewed him superficially.
In a wonderful article in Mishpacha Magazine, Rabbi Meir Frischman of Camp Agudah, the chairman of the board of camp directors, writes of the tremendous need for summer camps. Camps were founded at the behest of our gedolim with the intention of combating the challenges of the loose unstructured summer schedule that also presented various tznius issues. In the mountainous environment, a child could move (in his words) from davening to diving and from bentching to bed without ever seeing a TV or a computer screen.
He quotes Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Greenwald, renowned talmid chochom, psychologist and founder of the outstanding Camp Kol Ree Nah (from which I gained immeasurable camping experience), that, “Concrete can be a chatzitzah, a block, to a spiritual growth, while trees are not.” Rav Shlomo Wolbe, zt’l told him at a Torah Urnesorah convention that “certain lessons in character and middos can be better learned on a baseball field than from behind a school desk. While in a mussar shmuess you can preach fairness, honesty and respect for others, on the play field you can live it.”
While the primary goal of the gedolim was to offset the dangerous summer schedule, I believe that the benefits go much farther than that. As one who helps run a camp, I have a panoramic view of hundreds of individuals who form one big unit. Hinei mah tov umah na ‘im sheves achim gam yachad. What a beautiful sight to behold how brothers live together. And the unit is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Before camp begins, we have lists – lists of campers, lists of staff members, lists of bunks, and lists of shiurim. Then the people arrive, infusing those lists with life. Then the individuals begin to mesh, creating a beautiful human tapestry with immeasurable talents and energy. The place quickly becomes a boiling cauldron of happiness and fulfillment.
How beautiful it is to see boys with special abilities that they don’t get to use throughout the year each contribute their share to the tzibbur. Some have musical skills. Others contribute with art. There is the technical department, with their own genius of running the physical aspects of camp. Some lend their expertise on the computer, while others help with photography and video. Some excel in writing songs, others in theatrics and comedy. It is so important that natural talent be utilized. And what about those just plain hard workers? All of these come away from the summer with a special feeling of satisfaction
The importance of employing talents should not come as a surprise to us. The Gcmara in numerous places mentions the special gifts that various people possessed. There was the family of Beis Garmu who were talented in baking the lechem hoponim and Beis Avtinas who were experts in making thel ketores. Hugrus ben Levi knew a special song in the Bais Hamikdosh and Ben Kamtzar had a special ability to write with four pens in one hand at one time. For not willing to share this skill with others, Ben Kamtzar was taken to task (Mishnah Yomoh 38a).
The display of special talents wasn’t merely attributed to simple people. The Leviyim in the Bais Hamikdosh, about whom it is said, “They shall teach your ordinances to Yaacov and your Torah to Yisroel” – (Devorim 33:lO), were the ones who displayed musical prowess in the Bais Hamikdosh. Rabbon Shimon ben Gamliel, the nosi, would juggle eight torches and perform an acrobatic act known as kiddah at the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah.
Levi bar Sisi would juggle eight knives to entertain Rabi Yehudah Hanosi and the great Amora, Shmuel juggled eight glasses filled with wine in front of Shvor, the king of Persia. Bar Kaparah was known for his talents in comedy and poetry (see Nedorim 50b).
Seeing the beauty of this blend of artistry and the eruption of spirit in our limited camp setting, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like in Eretz Yisroel during the times of the Bais Hamikdosh. In the times when we still lived with achdus, when our abilities were much greater and when emotions weren’t stifled by the bitter golus, the scene was unfathomable.
But the main purpose of my article, dear reader, is not to extol the virtues of summer camps, for I am not a camp director involved with its financial aspects that would impel me to advertise. And if I would be, it would have been done before the camping season began, not when it’s just about over No, my motive is entirely different.
It is the last day of camp. The major activities have concluded and it’s time for packing. There are still some exciting events in store for the last night, but tomorrow the camp season comes to an end and everyone will be back home. A feeling of melancholy descends upon the campus.
After the last Maariv, we officially change back again from camp time to world time with campers sounding loud voices of protest. Now comes singing and dancing with ruach beyond description. Last pictures are taken with friends and staff. Now the head staff has the. challenging job of enforcing a strict curfew on that last night.
As the buses are being loaded in the morning, you can see the sadness on the boys’ faces. And as it gets closer to sendoff, there are boys crying…not only younger boys, but older ones as well. I know that this scene takes place in camps everywhere. Think about it. Boys who usually like to display a macho image aren’t ashamed to let the tears flow freely. The older members of the staff, veteran counselors and rabbeim are visibly moved at the departure. Why?
The superficial reason for these emotions is that they had a wonderful time throughout the summer and now it is coming to an end, Camp is all about fun and games and now they are returning home where soon they will begin the rigid and challenging schedule of the school year. While this is definitely true, it is far from the crux of the answer.
For too many boys, the camping experience is the only time they feel like a somebody. Throughout the year, they are judged by the number they receive on a test paper or by their ability to sit still in the classroom. This is hardly the measuring stick of the entire person. During the less demanding summer schedule, they can shine in different areas.
Some boys excel in sports, some in spirit, while yet others are outstanding friends who get the chance to build new relationships. This good feeling is enhanced by the fact that they are in a pressure-free atmosphere.
A mother spoke to our learning director to inquire about how much trouble her child was causing. When told that the boy is not a problem at all, both during shiur and activities, she was visibly moved. “This is the only month of the year that I haven’t I haven’t received a bad report about my son,” she said.
Doesn’t this boy have reason to be sad that this wonderful period of the year is over?
That explains why someone who has difficulties during the year is so sad. But why do I see boys who are metsuyanim during the year with tears in their eyes? They have a wonderful year of success ahead of them, as they are smart and diligent learners. Why are they sad?
Over the years, the yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs have made major strides in raising their scholastic levels. They are covering more parshiyos and finishing more mesechtos, and shiurim in mesivtos and botei medrash have become much more advanced, But there is still much more to be accomplished in the chinuch of the total person.
It is well known that a Yid is comprised of guf, nefesh, ruach and neshama. These are varied components of a person that need to be nurtured in different ways. While the high level of limud haTorah satiates the intellect, there are still other ingredients necessary to satiate the other parts of the talmid.
Would anyone be foolish enough to say, “Why eat food if they are learning Gemora?” As Chazal say, “If there is no bread, there is no Torah (Avos 3:17), for the mind that imbibes the Torah needs a healthy body for it to thrive.
This is just as true when it comes to nurturing the spirit of a person. The gedolim of the previous generations understood that while limud haTorah is our crowning jewel, there are other factors involved in producing the totality of a true oveid Hashem.
The holy Baal Sham Tov introduced chassidus for this reason. And for those of the Misnagdic persuasion, there was Rav Yisroel Salanter who founded the Mussar Movement. If these innovations were necessary to supplement limud haTorah in previous generations of giants, then how much more so are they needed in this weakened dor in the dreaded era of Ikvisa DeMeshicha to infuse the souls with spirit?
This is why even the successful boys are sad to go back to their regular routine. In camp, they have experienced a special warmth that they don’t feel throughout the year. They have received more personal attention, they have heard moving stories and speeches geared more to the heart than the intellect, and they have sung zemiros throughout the summer with their souls pouring forth their emotions to Hashem Yisborach.
They have experienced a kedushas Shabbos in a way that cannot be duplicated. And they have felt a mingling of the hearts which now, with the conclusion of camp, will be taken apart until the coming year. In short, their neshomos have been penetrated and they have tasted their inner essence.
One of my greatest pleasures is to see a talmid who doesn’t display much emotion during the school year now sing his heart out during Shabbos zemiros or a moving color war theme song. And there are many like that. This is true of the bright accomplished boys to whom the intellectual part of Torah is already attractive. Surely how crucial this is for the talmid who currently finds the learning difficult and needs some other form of spiritual gratification on a daily basis.
As the new school year approaches, we would be wise to pay heed to this. For years, the summer camps have worked on incorporating the work of yeshivos into their program. The time has come for our school systems to implement things that the camps are doing. No, no, I don’t mean to start having color war in yeshivos. Let me explain!
Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l was wont to say that we live in a dor hamabul, a generation permeated with decadence, emptiness and confusion. The teivas Noach to save us from this mabul is the yeshiva, The main purpose of the teivah was to shield its inhabitants from the destructive waters and the carnage that was taking place on the outside.
But there was another function of the teivah. It contained a tzohar, a stone, which radiated a bright light from within. In addition to witnessing the destruction brought about by immoral living, the passengers of the ark experienced the beauty of living together, working in unison and harmony to help save the entire briah from extinction.
The yeshivos have succeeded in becoming sealed fortifications that combat the outside influences. But aside from being a restrictive force, we can always do better regarding the radiance from within, building up the excitement and passion of our children and talmidim for avodas Hashem to negate the alien forces that threaten to cool them off.
There are various tools and methods stressed by summer camps that are well within the framework of Torah that should be used more to enhance the totality of our talmidim. Chazal say, “I have created the yeitzer harah and I have created the Torah as a potion to neutralize it” (Kiddushin 30b). While there are those who say that any topic in Torah can accomplish this, not everyone is capable of becoming deeply engrossed in the sugyah for it to work. Furthermore, the Mishnah Berurah (1:12) says that the elixir that Chazal refer to are maamarei Chazal that deal with mussar.
Practically speaking, plain mussar sermons work up to a point. There are worlds to be gained by incorporating maasim of gedolim into our lessons. Chazal say that the plain talk of the servants of the avos is greater than the Torah of the children, and surely this applies to stories of the actions of the avos. Because by studying their deeds, we see the Torah applied on a practical level. Talmidim are fascinated by stories and these maasei tzaddikim leave an everlasting impression on them. The Chazon Ish said that the stories of gedolim are the best mussar seforim that there are (Pe’er Hador, Volume 4, Page 148). It arouses its listeners to emulate the ways of tzaddikim (Shelah Hakodesh).
It’s a shame that the vast majority of our talmidim are ignorant of their rich heritage. The subject of Jewish History is such a wonderful resource of instilling pride in what we stand for, yet most schools do not incorporate it into their curriculum. And if it is taught, the concentration is on dry dates and places rather than the flame that burned within the hearts of tzaddikim and the Jews of the kehillos of yesteryear. It is much like the wasted subject of science and biology. They could have been used as a tool to recognize the wonders of Hashem. Instead, they have become a memorization of meaningless definitions and terms that bore the students to tears (if they are listening).
And what about the koach of neginah? I remember as a child the special singing sessions we had in school. There were rabbeim who would teach the talmidim new niggunim every week. But not in older yeshivos, you say? Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l was known to be a tremendous baal menagein and his talmidim asked if he could sing together with them. Not wanting to incorporate new interests into a yeshiva not based on a mesorah, he asked his rebbi, Rav Chaim Brisker, about this. Rav Chaim said, “If they want to sing, sing with them.”
Rav Shlomo Heiman zt”l was once asked by an acquaintance how, as a product of the Lithuanian mussar yeshivos, he could be a rosh yeshiva in Mesivta Torah Vodaas which didn’t have an official mussar seder. The rosh yeshiva answered, “The bochurim who spend a weekly seudah shlishis with Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz do not need a mussar seder.”
And what about just plain talking with talmidim? Mussar shmuessen are very important. But they are talking at the talmid. Even more important is to talk with the tdlrnidim.
I personally heard the following from Rav Shalom Schwadron zt”l.
There was an outstanding well-known Brisker mechanech inYerushalayim named Rav Feivel Edelman. Rav Shalom, who made a career out of learning from every person he met, once asked him, “What is the secret of your great success?”
At first, Rav Edelman hesitated to answer, hut when Rav Shalom persisted, he said, “I’m successful because I speak with my talmidim more than I learn with them.”
Oh, how necessary this is in today’s day and age when we live in a dark clouded world where talmidim need more guidance than ever.
In our fear of outside influences, we have become overly restrictive. Even ball playing, which our roshei yeshiva found perfectly kosher, is eschewed in numerous places today. How do we expect our talmidim to retain a good self image and sense of balance with such extremes? While certain restrictions are fine for yechidim, they mustn’t be imposed on the rabim. And then we wonder why bachurim have to smoke and go to shalom zachors for drinking purposes.
I remember fondly as a talmid in Telz, how after the seudah Shabbas night, we would go to the home of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Boruch Sorotzkin zt”l, for a vaad in ‘ Medrash or Ramban. This was followed with a plate of mezonos and drinks. But the highlight of the evening was the shmoozing afterwards. This was done by every rosh yeshiva. In fact, there was a whole system of vaadim where younger bochurim would go to the home of yungeleit and the same scene repeated itself.
When a country fights a war against a vicious enemy, it uses all of the various weapons at its disposal. Arial bombing, as intense as it may be, will work up to a point. Eventually, ground troops are also necessary and naval forces are employed. We are fighting a war against the koach hatumah that wants our neshamos. All of the weapons in our arsenal must come into play.
Over twenty years ago, the Lakewood mashgiach, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, gave a lecture to parents in Cleveland about raising children. He mentioned that to children, school is like a prison. They feel trapped and uncomfortable. It is therefore incumbent upon parents not to extend this feeling to the home. Instead, they must create an ambience of warmth so that the children have a haven to come home to.
This got me thinking. Who says that the classroom has to feel like a prison? Through warmth, thorough good cheer, through extra preparation in not just teaching the Gemara but making mentchen, we can instill a real fire and passion within them and, in the process, make the classroom their home.
Does adding spice to our curriculum compromise the level of learning? To the contrary. It can be a boon to get more mileage out of talmidim. A car’s engine would quickly burn out without the motor oil that smooths it. These additives lubricate the rebbi-talmid relationship and nurture the talmid in a way that facilitates his learning.
May we be zoche to reach the inner core of the neshamos of all of our children and talmidim.