I absolutely adore camp; and the main reason that I think every child should be able to go to summer camp is because I’m a firm believer in the power of community. As former campers, counselors, and/or Tevaniks, we [the bus crew] quickly became a tight-knit group, looking to our past experiences as guidance for which community roles we might fit into best. At the same time, we’re also familiar with the group development process – forming, storming, norming, performing – and know that regardless of the circumstances and individuals involved, every group will almost inevitably experience each of these group development phases.
As our own group develops, we also have the opportunity to observe how camps view, develop and uphold strong communities. This past week, we were especially lucky to visit two Habonim Dror camps: Camp Galil in Ottsville, PA and Camp Na’aleh in Windsor, NY. Habonim Dror camps are essentially kibbutzim for American children – socialist, zionist, and forward-thinking.
Pretty much all summer camps encourage collaboration, participation and relationship-building, however these camps are particularly special in their dedication to camper-based decision-making and unmitigated camp spirit. While all “Habo” camps embody these ideals, each goes about it in a unique way, so it was fascinating to see how the two adapted parallel values amongst differing types of communities.
The campers and staff at Galil welcomed each meal with loud “yala-lalalala” cheers accompanied by continuous stomping and table banging, Similarly, the entire camp at Na’aleh concluded their meals with “Do your thing” cheers, calling on every group in the relatively small Chadar O’chel to “do their thing”. And although the camps differ greatly in size and facilities, each has weekly community meetings that include all members of the camp community, giving a voice to anyone who has a concern, question or suggestion they wish to share.
Another striking similarity was the age of staff members. At both camps, it was often hard to tell who was a camper and who was a staffer – even the camp directors are rarely older than 25! At Habo camps, the all too common adult-camper dichotomy has no place; in fact, when we arrived to Na’aleh, the madrichim (counselors) were just entering the moadon (lounge) to break (e.g conclude) “revo” – a day when the madatzim (Counselors in Training) – run camp.
Madatzim play a huge role at Habo camps, serving as the link between camper and counselor. Each madatz is a peer to the campers (and in their eyes even cooler than their counselors since they don’t necessarily have to enforce rules), while fulfilling actual leadership responsibilities – not just doing menial labor. At camps with such strong CIT programs, staffers tend to identify themselves by their madatz year, indicating that group identity/unity truly comes as a result of empowerment. In this sense, Habo camps go beyond simply providing a fun summer for campers, but furthermore foster responsibility, leadership, and community ties.
It was inspiring for us to view this firsthand and to play our own small part in their experience of forging group identity. It was also exciting for us to be at a place where the connections bridged by campers and counselors align with our mishkan theme for the 2015 bus tour. Through our programs we hope for campers to see and value the contributions each of them makes, to appreciate the work they do together, and, on a larger scale, to feel empowered to work with others to make change in their own communities. By living out our own values of sharing our space and our lives, living minimally, and working together, we hope to serve as one possible model to inspire the communities and individuals we visit to take initiative to make positive environmental change in ways that are authentic to them. In this case, being at Na’aleh and Galil similarly inspired us incorporate what we learned from them. Being with the Habo campers, madatzim, and staff displayed the tangible success of our belief that by valuing and empowering those around us, everyone can take on leadership and responsibility to achieve more than they thought was possible.