By Shneur Levy, Opinions Editor
How do I summarize seven weeks of tremendous joy and leadership into a few words? Beginnings are hard, but for me this wasn’t even my first summer, this was my third. I began as a counselor and in my second summer worked as a lifeguard, recreational rotator, costume head etc. This summer, I had the privilege of working as the assistant to the Director of Programming, Rav Daniel Eisenberg. It’s hard to say which aspect of my life my boss, and now friend, influenced most whether professionally or spiritually or realistically just a balance of the two.
Back when I was a counselor, I had my second ever panic attack. My camper really wanted to play his favorite song on YouTube, and he had a habit of changing the different languages and speeds for it. It was a cartoon hippo singing “I’m a Little Teapot,” playing at 3x speed on a speaker. I let this go on for some time so I could get a quick nap in, but I was upset and overwhelmed. I hit a breaking point after about 20 minutes, and started to have a panic attack. I rushed out of the bunkhouse, and sat outside taking deep breaths to recover. Was it wrong on my part to not have stopped him from playing it earlier, and take the music away? When you’ve never interacted with individuals with special needs, and this was your first week of camp,what are you supposed to do in situations like this? Although our first encounter was a difficult one, I was committed to building a relationship with him, a relationship that truly filled my heart with joy. On the last Shabbat his camp teacher had the campers write Shabbat-O-Grams, and he wrote how much he appreciates me. I kept that note in my suit jacket pocket the rest of the year.
Another one of my campers had a strong passion for reading. More specifically though, he was obsessed with the Froggy book series, especially Froggy Plays Soccer. I remember reading the book to him numerous times before bed, and of course he would read along with me, because he had heard this story being read over a dozen times. He would make sound effects that pertained to the storyline, and I would just be in awe of his memory. Another camper, who taught me so much about passion and dedication, had such a pure soul. Every time we attended tefillah (prayer), no matter what time of day, he would put on a tallit (prayer shawl), and just start swaying and davening only as he knew how. He would stand right next to the chazzan (prayer leader) and become ingrained in spirituality. Although he may not have fully followed the formal structure of the siddur, I firmly believe that his prayers were much more wholesome and heartfelt, due to his immense kavannah (concentration).
The next year, after having a great summer the year before with my campers, I decided due to my friend’s advice, to switch to Recreation Staff. That summer I remember seeing my campers throughout camp, and always stopping to say hi, because I missed them. My favorite memory from that summer was on Superhero dress-up day when I dressed up as Superman. I would go over to campers, and tell them to keep a top secret. That my real name was actually Clark Kent and it was important to help keep my cover. For the Sesame Street night activity, I dressed up as Bert, with various pool toys, such as rubber ducks, to really get in spirit.
Contrastingly, this past summer, as Programming Assistant I was more in the background running the events rather than personally getting in on the action. For me, I had to live vicariously through other members of staff, and get nachat (pride) from what they were doing. We had an ice cream making activity for Winter Wonderland, and halfway through we ran out of the most important ingredient: ice. One of the staff members decided to turn it into a chocolate milk station and just had someone bring chocolate syrup from the kitchen. It was an incredible backup plan on her end, and made it so the station wasn’t a total flop. One of my own personal stories was on “Birthday Night.” I had just come from the birthday cake station, and noticed one of the staff member’s kids crying next to a camper in a stroller with a handful of cake. After a brief assessment of the situation, I asked her if she wanted another piece of cake because hers had been taken. I used my ‘authoritative’ powers to get her to the front of the line, and we decorated her cake with frosting and sprinkles. To truly connect with everyone, campers and staff, and even their children was so meaningful to me. Additionally, I found that everyone in camp was always there to help me personally with whatever I needed. For example, during the summer, there were few things that made me upset, but it was my mentor and boss, Rav Daniel that helped me get through them. We spoke for hours about various topics, and I truly felt that he was someone I could count on. One situation that comes to mind is, when I wanted to be off for Lag B’Omer day, but my co had precedence in the off day rotation. Our boss was so understanding and let me be off for the night activity, so I wouldn’t get triggered by all the music that I heard from Meron in 2021.
Overall, it was an amazing experience, and something that I would recommend to all. I thank Camp HASC and Rav Daniel Eisenberg for giving me the best summers ever. From what I mentioned above, yes it was a lot of work, but it was holy spiritual work. To help make individuals with specialized needs happy, and provide them opportunities that they don’t really get during the rest of the year, is truly a blessing. Where else are they able to play sports, arts, and other creative outlets, perfectly designed for fun. Every year I tell myself that I’m not coming back, but this year I feel like I really do want to go back for another summer filled with absolute chaos and fun. We all shared the same experiences, no matter what job we had in Camp HASC, and left feeling sad that it would be a whole nother year until we would see our campers again. May this year be one of growth and opportunities to continuously become our best selves.