All Together In This Special Place by Scarlett London
I can’t remember a time when Camp was not the most important thing in my life. Even during my first year in Shoresh, I saw camp for what it was — a place that shows you who you are and who you can be. Camp has given me moments of pure, perfect happiness as I learned to let my walls down and feel comfortable in my own skin. At camp, I met the funniest, most creative people — people who quickly became my best friends in the world. And after a year without it, going back was a must.
Last summer, as we drove up to the Nicolet High School parking lot and saw the glorious Lamers buses, my eyes welled with tears. I felt the same nervous excitement as I had every year since Shoresh. What if Camp had changed? What if my favorite counselors weren’t coming? And this year there were new questions, too. What would we do in the Gesher program? Would it be similar to K’far? What if COVID made camp lose its magic? I had no idea what to expect. As I saw my friends pulling into the lot one by one, I realized I didn’t really care how much had changed. My idea of “camp magic” had long ago shifted away from activities and more towards the people. As long as we were “all together, in this special place,” it would all be fine.
It is difficult to describe the pure, tangible emotion that pulsed through the stuffy air on the bus as we pulled onto Old Highway 70 and saw that big Interlaken sign. Many of us hadn’t been sure of the next time we would see that sign. It was a feeling of homecoming, safety, relief, and euphoria.
We stepped back onto that familiar gravel and I felt a palpable weight lift from my shoulders. Every worry, every COVID test, every stressful moment over the past year; it all evaporated into the fresh air of the north woods.
During the next few days we were able to finally immerse ourselves in the community we had been longing for over the past two years. Camp was different. Grade levels had to be separated for the first few weeks, we now had COVID tests in addition to our usual lice checks, and we obviously had to wear masks whenever we were out around main camp. But that “camp magic” didn’t go anywhere. The pontoon still offered the best stargazing. The guitars still played the same songs. The challah was still salted with the “tears of our long and diasporic existence.”
But, for us, the centerpiece this year was the Gesher program. Since we had missed our K’far year, we were anxious to participate in leadership programs. We also wanted to finally get some closure to help us reflect on our time at Interlaken and start thinking about the transition from camper to camp leader.
In just two weeks, the Gesher program gave us all of that and more.
This year, through Gesher, we felt like we were really starting to make a difference at camp. We met with Toni several times to talk about everything from programming to chugim, to the qualities we most loved in a counselor. Our own counselors were not present during these meetings, and it felt good to be able to speak to Toni directly as we thought about all of our life-changing counselors and how we ourselves could embody those traits. Although we did not participate in “K’far takes over,” (KTO), we planned an evening program, and we did get the chance to become “counselors” for one night. I was with the Shoresh two-week boys, and, although by the end of the night I was utterly exhausted, it gave me the chance to see Camp through a different lens. Interacting with campers in a new way, leading activities, and hearing what they had to say made me realize why being a counselor is so rewarding.
We also divided into committees where we planned our own Maccabiah, recorded a documentary, and planned our own final banquet. We were able to experience the creative and productive side of camp leadership, and I really enjoyed it. These groups made us realize, individually and collectively, that we all had something to contribute. We could finally give back to camp and make it better, more fun, and more interesting. And the process was just as fun as the result.
Finally, of course, we were incredibly excited to finally be experiencing K’far. We were able to stay in Yurts, hang out in the Rec hall and the Bayit, and participate in the long-standing traditions that had been carefully kept secret from us all these years.
I am truly grateful for the Gesher experience. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on my time here as a camper and make sense of it. Through late night evening programs, long talks with staff, and, of course, unforgettable campfires, I thought about who I have become and the role camp has played in my life. It gave me some closure on my time as a camper, and allowed me to start thinking about the next chapter – both at camp and beyond. I’m so thankful for every memory, every life lesson, and every tear-filled campfire. I could go on, but I have to save something for my Ozo application! (Note from the camp office: Scarlett did save something for her Ozo application and will be back on the machaneh for summer 2022)
Scarlett London, Ann Arbor, MI, Ozo 2022