Reflections on the start of Summer 2015

Carolina Stapleton, Day Camp @ Pearl River Aquatics Director

I walked into camp for our first staff orientation day on Sunday morning right after a big rain storm, it was warm and cloudy, I walked up to our shelter listening to the sound of the small wet rocks on the ground, the leaves were soaked, dripping water as if they had just come out of the pool. I took a deep breath in, register that moment in my mind and thought:

This is going to be an incredible summer, we have everything we could possibly need.

A week later the kids arrived, as I was walking up to the shelter stepping on the small rocks again I saw two girls, same back packs, same hats, holding hands walking right in front of me, sisters of life walking into camp on the very first day, supporting each other. What a special moment. I mentally registered that picture but couldn't let that go without snapping a real one! 

I am truly blessed to have a job in camp for the summer, very lucky to be able to wake up my kids every morning and remind them we have another wonderful day to live in camp! Having my kids as campers at the same camp where I work is a real opportunity to experience and practice all the values that I deeply nurture all year round in my own home.

It is wonderful to see camp friends and staff slowly becoming part of our lives and memories. We are living a dream, becoming aware of the nature around us, sitting around the fire, making funny faces, singing, climbing, sharing snacks and holding hands, not only with the ones we recognize from home, but with the ones that we are now caring for, just like a family. 

Passing The Torch

Melissa Donovan
Chief Operating Officer, Health and Wellness + Membership, JCC Manhattan

It was no ordinary morning. After her oatmeal, sunscreen and Shake It Off dance ritual, I delivered my orange-shirted, pigtailed 3-year-old daughter into the smiling and capable staff hands at the JCC Day Camp where she will be a “Bunny” for the summer. She doesn't yet know the significance of this moment for me but, thankfully, my lifelong camp friend who also happens to be the JCC Camp Director does. After I blew one last kiss and peeled myself away from the cubbies neatly filled with lunch packs and water shoes, Director Genna caught my eye and reached out to give my hand a squeeze. Parenthood offers you the chance to return face-to-face with defining moments from your own childhood all the time. This one almost swallowed me whole. My daughter's camp journey had begun.

In the summer of 1991, my final summer as a true camper, color war at CTT broke out in the middle of the night. Zealous campers had slept with shoes on for days in anticipation of such excitement. Next morning in the chill of the Pocono air, I stood next to my Senior comrades with my eyes closed and back-turned to the bevy of girls waving red bandanas. Hands silently raised and fell behind me in the annual captain voting ritual required to mobilize each team. I slightly dreaded popular votes like this during the school year. During those other 10 months, the outcome was more often tied to social hierarchy than spirited democracy. Not so in the summer. Different things were rewarded in the glorious summer. Like how well you treated others, creativity, teamwork, resourcefulness or, say, how quickly you could choreograph a lip sync using only a tennis racket and a feather boa brought from someone’s bat mitzvah. For an only child from suburban Philly, the giggling sisterhood I formed with 13 other girls every summer from June to August carried me through the rest of the year. But this particular day at camp was transformative. The vote finished and the Unit Head boomed, "Red Team, your captain is... Melissa D!" And on the steps of Bunk Spruce, I became a camp color war captain. Responsible for all of those eager faces, and their sense of inclusion and sportsmanship for four whole days? Yikes! My hands trembled as I took the big red CTT clipboard and, that day, started thinking of myself as someone who could help organize and motivate others. Someone who could maybe, just maybe... lead.

Powerful self-esteem and confidence-building opportunities were present at every turn in camp. It's where I took the theatrical stage for the first time (Jan in "Grease"), hiked my first big mountain (the Gunks) and where, for four of those miles, I figured out all the lyrics to my first crush’s favorite Def Leppard song. But it was only recently that I began fully recognizing the role camp also played in my own leadership development. Color war captainship meant recruiting participation, directing resources, and helping people of all different ages and abilities work together towards a common goal. There was consensus building and strategy, if only to decide who would do the overnight campsite challenge or swim anchor in the relay. I played champion, peace-maker, and problem-solver in the summer of '91 and learned what it meant to ensure everyone got over the finish line in one piece, and smiling. The responsibility was scary and exhilarating. The torch and lessons I carried out of camp that summer—every summer—helped shape my desire to influence and enable others based on core values, which is the foundation of my professional identity to this day.

Summer camp was an ultimate identity builder for me. Sacred ground where I could stretch every muscle of both the physical and emotional kind within a safe and supportive community. My daughter's fledgling camp day is just 4 hours long for now, but I hope it's the start of an eternal longing for those eight special weeks of summer fever which inspires kids to "live 10 for 2”. This is no ordinary summer. This summer, with gratitude, wonder and nostalgia, I pass the summer camp torch to my daughter.

Making Mensches, Special Guest Post

Jeremy Fingerman, CEO, Foundation for Jewish Camp

I am certain that I am not the only parent who wrestles with the question of how to guide my children to become mensches and individuals who are relevant in the 21st century.

Educators and leaders of Fortune 500 corporations identified critical skills that are necessary to navigate in, compete in, and contribute to our complex and global society in the 21st century. They have found skills like creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, leadership, and responsibility missing from young hires.

Research shows that these skills are not necessarily taught in schools. We know there is a significant gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills that they need to be successful as adults. As parents work to ensure their children acquire all the skills to succeed, many have begun relying on summer experiences to compensate for this gap and view camp as a critical extension of their child’s education.

Camp is a great place where children are able to practice and perfect these 21st century skills. Through challenging activities with their bunkmates, campers practice teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. The fun games they play encourage humor, creativity, and collaboration. By overcoming obstacles, they build resilience and reinforce life lessons individually and as a community. The power of Jewish camp is that kids develop these skills all within a Jewish context, with Jewish values and joy-filled experiences.

Jewish camps hope to inspire young people today to be able to be decent, mature, and responsible contributing members of our Jewish community. Jewish camps have been in the business of “making mensches” for generations and they continue to do so by providing an environment for our children that models personal behavior, ethics, and responsibility for the future of our Jewish community.

Six months from now, our bunks, chapels, and lakes will be filled with mensches in the making. We must continue to provide our campers with Jewish literacy with the aim of creating visible Jewish pride and curiosity as well as equip them with critical 21st century skills.

Camp’s immersive environment delivers a powerful answer to why Jewish camp remains to this day such a vital tool for our community.

Your kids deserve the adventure of Jewish camp. This summer, you can make it happen. Discover BunkConnect and get 40-60% your first summer, hassle free. 

Sharing the Love of Camp

Dava Schub, Chief Program Officer, JCC Manhattan

Don't get me's not that camp is too distant a memory to pull up and re-live, re-tell like it were yesterday, in fact there are moments when 35 years ago feels so close I can feel the need for the wool sweater to warm up a crazy cold Aug morning or that I run to my mailbox on the Upper West Side hoping for some handwritten love from "home" (and what I find instead are all of the catalogues I should have unsubscribed from and the bills that I keep meaning to put on auto-pay!). But in celebration of 30-days of summer, what I am pulling up is not the photo albums full of my own camp memories---the many moments that I give credit for making me the best parts of who I am today, but instead--I pulled up one of my "last night of camp email" to my niece (I send her one every summer...) before she packs up her bags and heads back to what everyone who doesn't know better calls "real life". 
Those of us who "get it", know camp is as real as it gets!

(and for those of us sleep-away camp die-hards who think day camp is for someone else...let me just give an unabashedly proud plug for Pearl River...where the magic of sleepaway camp happens each day and your kids gets to sleep in their own bed each night.


From: Auntie Dava


Hey there Anna my sweet---

I just opened another delicious letter from you---and I realized you are in the homestretch to the end of what I hope has been another amazing summer at camp. 

It was such a treat getting to talk to you last night. You sounded terrific- so relaxed and happy. As I said to your mom when we hung up- "everyone needs their happy place"--- and I am so glad you have found yours. Enjoy these final days in your special home away from home and take lots of pictures (sometimes the ones you take in your head are the very best ones-- the sights and sounds you can go back to on a night that you have too much homework or your brother is annoying you--- keep all the good stuff close at hand :-)

My wishes for you in the homestretch---


  • eat is all up (and I don't just mean the s'mores!)
  • take it all in (the late night conversations, the view of the lake, the way it feels too cold in the morning and then too hot by lunch time)
  • lean on the people around you---your counselors, your bunk mates---this month they are your family, your friends, your everything and the more you let them be that for you the more they can mean to you (and even though missing them sucks, you also realize how lucky you are too have so many people all over the place who love you and look forward to seeing you next summer)
  • find a big bottle (ok, it might even have to be an imaginary bottle!)- and take some of the HVC peace, ease and wonder home with you because I am sure there will be moments when you start a new school or need to let your brother watch his shows on tv---you can crack open that bottle and let just enough camp-goodness seep out to warm your heart and make your day
  • and, know that we all LOVE you, miss you and cannot wait to have you home!!!!!!!


xoxo and go hi five a llama for me :-)


love u,

Auntie Dava

The Path that Camp Created

Joanie Kaltseis, Teacher at the Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at JCC Manhattan

The summer after my first year in college, my mom asked if I would work at a summer camp so that she wouldn't have to worry about my little sister, Amy, going on the bus alone or being alone all day.  She was the youngest of the five of us, and that was the summer she turned four.  Since I'm the oldest, and always had a special relationship with my baby sister, I thought it might be a fun way for us to bond before I had to leave again for the next school year.

That summer changed my life.  Not only did I get to enjoy a special routine with my youngest sibling, where we would stop off at a local bakery for coffee (for me), and a muffin (for her) on our way to camp in each morning, but I also got to know a lot of amazing educators and families.  I worked a long day -- the half-day four year old program, with bus duty for mid-day dismissal and then came back to work with a five year old group in the afternoons.  I had never been as physically exhausted in my life (I would literally come home and go to bed at 5:00 pm!)  I had also never been as mentally exhilarated or had so much fun in one day.  I made real connections with teachers, who suggested I follow through with what seemed to be a natural calling.  Shortly after that first summer, I changed career paths and transferred to a different university.  I decided that my heart was in working with children -- very young children -- and building inclusive classrooms dedicated to helping all children grow and learn.

I enrolled at NYU in their Early Childhood and Special Education program, and the rest, as they say, is history.  That first summer brought me to where  am right now, and I've enjoyed working here at the JCC in the Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School since 2007.  My time at camp helped me to land here, in the middle of a rich community, where both my family and I have had the chance to meet so many wonderful families and people and forge deep relationships. Oh, and that first group of campers?  They'll graduate high school this June.

Making New Friends

Noah Hichenberg, Director , Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at JCC Manhattan

My first day summer at camp, I arrived with no friends, lots of awkwardness, and a Walkman.  And apparently, that's all I needed to be set up for a great summer.  As parents drove away in their minivans, the two Bunk 6 counselors told each of us which bunk-bed was ours and began an icebreaker.  We went around in a circle, with empty shelves and bags still packed, and shared our name and our favorite song.  One of my new bunk-mates answered, "I'm Alex. My favorite song is Killing Me Softly by the Fugees."  I knew I was in luck: it just so happened that I had that song on a cassette (diligently recorded straight from radio, snippet of commercial afterwards included).  As we began to unpack, I invited Alex to share my headphones and we listened together to his favorite song.  Our Hebrew teacher that summer wisely capitalized on our love of the song, and we spent two weeks translating it into Hebrew.  The last week of camp, in a memory still vivid in my mind, our Hebrew group led the entire cafeteria in Killing Me Softly in Hebrew.  We had done it: made friends and found a home at camp.

For the next several summers, Alex and I grew up together.  Our last night as a campers, years later, Alex and I stood next to each other as our whole group sang havdallah for a final time.  It was the perfect bookend for what in the moment seemed like a complete and full camp life. My heart was content. What more could I ask for?  Only, a funny thing happened - we continued to grow up!  Alex was at my wedding years later; we spent two harrowing weeks in Egypt on break from college; he stayed on my couch for a week when a hurricane knocked out power in his downtown apartment; most recently, our trips to Israel overlapped this past August and we walked and chatted on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv together one night.

Camp is a powerful place.  It is a magical place.  Watch out: you never know what moment might ignite a lifelong friendship.