How Camp Impacted Me
By: Adam Nickels
Throughout my teenage years, I often heard of people working at Jewish summer camps in America and spending their summers there during their time in University. After years of dreaming about it and watching The Parent Trap on repeat, in 2013, it was finally my time to apply to work at a camp. I knew lots of people who had worked at camps in California, and what 17-year-old from rainy London wouldn’t dream of spending their summers on the west coast, living the California dream. To cut a long story short, I was too young to spend that summer in California as a 17-year-old. Fast forward to 2014, I had been placed at this summer camp in a place called Wisconsin, which embarrassingly I had to Google. I began to research Camp Interlaken JCC and wasn’t particularly thrilled to see where it was on the map considering how many years I spent picturing spending a summer in California. Well, little did I know how much this miraculous place tucked away in Eagle River would become a home and change my life.
Now we’re in 2021. I had just been living in Boston for a year where I had moved to get my Masters in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. I found myself back working at CIL after having a few years break due to other summer work commitments. At the closing staff campfire of the summer, I knew what I wanted to say. I stood up and told my story of how I made it to Interlaken and the journey it had taken me on since that first summer. Camp Interlaken opened my eyes to a part of my life that I didn’t know I was looking for. We often talk about the ‘camp bug’ (not the one where you get sick, but the type where your love and passion becomes incurable) and boy, did I catch that bug. I had planned my education around becoming a teacher and hoped to get my teaching qualifications after graduating, yet after my first summer at Interlaken, I knew that my future was in overnight Jewish camping. Thus began the start of my career, which has seen me take on roles in the JCC day camping world, BBYO, and JCamp 180.
I finished my speech at the campfire attributing all the accomplishments and milestones in my professional career to Camp Interlaken and to Toni, who has become not only a mentor and role model, but also a dear friend. Camp Interlaken allowed me to figure out what I am passionate about in my life. It taught me so much about myself, the person and Jew that I want to be in this world, and it has allowed me to become a better version of myself. When I reflect on just how much camp did for me, I can’t help but think of how many lives it changes for young Jewish children and camp staff. For some, camp is a moment in time, but for many it really is a lifestyle. No matter where I go, or what camp I work for, I hear countless stories where the common trend is how camp impacted their lives, whether they met a future spouse there, gained a new understanding of themselves, developed leadership skills, or even helped with some networking. I experienced this firsthand when I moved to Seattle at the end of last summer. I attended a Moishe House event and was talking to someone I had just met, sharing a bit about my background and how I got to Seattle. I mentioned I worked at a Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin for a few years and much to my surprise, his partner was a camper at Interlaken. That camper was Jake Levy; we missed each other by one year at camp and since that game of Jewish geography, we have become great friends and often find ourselves sharing Interlaken stories and randomly singing in a restaurant “Rad Hayom, Shemesh Dom…”. The shared love for Jewish summer camping is vast and it has now become part of who I am.
In June of 2022, I became the Camp Director at Camp Solomon Schechter in Washington State. This is a position I have dreamt of since my first year at Interlaken, and it is undeniable that I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without Camp Interlaken. As I am approaching my second summer at CSS, I am still beyond indebted to Camp Interlaken for allowing me to achieve my dreams and to have a career in an industry I have grown to deeply love. Now I get to share everything I have learned with the CSS community and all of the wonderful people within it. I often find myself saying to myself, “What would Toni do in this situation?” and think back to shadowing her at camp and watching her in action. As I continue to grow in my role as a Camp Director, I will always remember what Camp Interlaken did for me and will forever be its biggest cheerleader and fan, though I know I’ll have some competition for that title. From years spent on Lake Finley to my new home on Lake Stampfer, Camp Interlaken will always have a place in my heart, and I can’t wait till I come back and visit in the future.