OZO Program Reflection

By: Saul Yardley

There is something special that happens in those hundred acres by Eagle River. Ask anyone who has spent some time up there, and they will eagerly explain to you what they think the reason to be, as they reflect on their people and their memories. 

Even the youngest Shoresh camper will have a powerful answer for this question. We hear it every year at the closing campfire, as each cabin sends a representative or two to share something to take us forward until we are all back together the year after. As they watch the same campfire burn up their sticks each year, they will build on their answer, deepening their connection to camp, their friends, Judaism, and themselves. 

Something special happens when they transition from having their own lives changed for the better to changing the lives of others. They will see everything, from the cabins, to the trees, to the lake, to their friends, in a different light. They will still feel that Interlaken magic, but something about it hangs a little differently. It is that moment when someone goes from savoring the magic to making it. 

Something happens again when a person takes another step along this journey and becomes a Mama or Papa Ozo. They have a new role: to teach others how to make that magic. No longer is their goal a day or a week at camp – but a year, or 5 years, or 10 years.  

A couple of weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of finding out that I have taken another step along this road – that the people that I taught how to build the magic are now preparing to do the same thing themselves this summer. Their task is one of immense responsibility, but also the greatest privilege. It will be one of the final times that the Ozrim will have people outside of their families watching out for them, helping them to grow. They are preparing for the final stretch of high school, and their arrival into the wider world beyond. Knowing that it will be 3 of my Ozrim – Deborah, Lauren, and Micah – guiding this year’s Ozrim on their journey, leaves me with no doubt about the strength and impact of this program. It is a huge feeling of pride. 

When I stood in their shoes in 2019, what my Ozrims’ incredible Mama and I sought to leave our Ozrim with is that we would always be there for them, and camp would too. So many people, whether it has been decades since their last summer at camp or a few weeks, situate camp as being a critical element of their development. They rely on their camp experiences in their everyday lives, and the Ozrim for this year will certainly find this summer to be one that builds this feeling for them, whether they come back for many more years or choose to move on after their final campfire this year. 

There are many metrics that we use to measure success in our lives. We assess ourselves by looking at our families, our communities, our friends, our jobs, and more. The Ozrim program is there to help with all of those. It teaches humility and perseverance, the value of love and selflessness, and the difficulty but wonder of being responsible for other people. It marks the high point of camp, when we bring together our focus from the years of the Ozrim being campers to prepare them for the next stage. Camp is wonderful because it represents both stability and transition – stability because it is the same place with the same love and laughter, but transition, because we are in the business of giving our campers the tools to build themselves. The Ozrim program shows this best. It is the same cabins, staffed by people that the Ozrim know well from their years as campers, but they will find themselves understanding themselves and each other a little more when they cry together at their closing campfire at the end of the summer. 

I have no doubt that the program this year will be incredible, and that the magic of camp is in safe hands.