Anyone who has spent a summer at Camp Solomon Schechter knows what a special experience it can be. Running and swimming outdoors, playing with friends you haven’t seen in a year, living in a 24hr parent-free, fully immersive Jewish society; there is just so much fun to be had at camp! This, of course, is no accident. The camp staff works hard to make sure that everything at camp is as fun as possible because we know that a positive experience at summer camp will impact our campers for the rest of their lives.
There’s an old saying, “fun ain’t everything,” but in our little camp world, fun is the vehicle that allows us to deliver on all of our other goals. If our campers aren’t having fun, they won’t be excited about our program, they won’t feel good about being there, they may not return in subsequent summers and, in all likeliness, their future connection to the Jewish community will be weakened. Studies have shown that attending Jewish summer camp is one of the most influential experiences a person can have in terms of creating lasting relationships within, and continued connection to, the Jewish people. So for us at camp, fun is everything. And guess what? There is no quicker way to spoil fun than the feeling of being left out, picked on or bullied.
So with that in mind, Camp Solomon Schechter is launching a new program this summer that will be called Derech Schechter (The Schechter Way). Derech Schechter is a spin off of the phrase Derech Eretz (respect), which is a cornerstone value of CSS. With Derech Schechter we aim to promote mensch-like behavior in our campers and staff in order to create the most inclusive environment possible. We are aiming to provide our campers with the tools that are needed to identify specific behaviors that can make them feel uncomfortable and the language to help them address those behavioral issues.
The Derech Schechter program is being generously funded by the Stan & Ethel Katz Briller Jewish Education Fund at the Oregon Jewish Community Fund and is being developed in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Josh Niehaus, our Assistant Director, has been collaborating with ADL Regional Director Hilary Bernstein, who provides expertise on empowering young people to act as positive allies for each other. Together, they are creating a host of unique cabin bonding activities, structured nightly debriefs and roleplaying games designed to help campers empathize with one another, work cooperatively and foster self-reliance. Hilary is excited and honored to be working on Derech Shechter and she will be coming down to camp three times over the course of the summer to train our staff, work with campers and help us refine the program as we go.
Derech Schechter fits in beautifully with our 2015 summer theme –V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha (love your neighbor as yourself). There is a tale of a rabbi who was walking in town with his disciples when he came across a man beating another man in the road. The rabbi turned to his disciples and said, “Now there is a man who takes the commandment to love his neighbor as himself seriously.” The rabbi’s disciples were very confused by this statement until he continued, “We can only hope that one day he will learn to love himself so that he may treat others accordingly.”
There are many reasons why two campers might be struggling to get along or why a group might decide to exclude an individual. By bringing campers together in group activities designed to encourage them to cooperate and see things from one another’s perspective, we believe everyone will feel more accepted and appreciated. Then issues can be avoided, or resolved, before they turn aggressive and mean-spirited. To reinforce this, we will be rewarding campers with bracelets for mensch-like behavior, based on values from Making Mensches: A Periodic Table. This is a wonderful resource that illustrates a wide array of Jewish values and provides a roadmap to behaving virtuously. When our campers are acting like the wonderful menches that they are, they will be rewarded with one of five bracelets, which have values written on them in English and Hebrew (Love, Encouragement, Friendship, Respect and Kindness). Once a camper earns all five, they will be awarded the coveted “CSS Judaism & Joy” bracelet!
Of course, the bracelets are only there to add a little pizazz. But they do let our campers and staff know that we notice and appreciate when they do kind things, act courageously or just brighten up someone’s day. Camp is all about fun, but not all fun is created equal. At Camp Solomon Schechter we aim to fuse joy with Jewish values so we can create the kind of fun that everyone benefits from.
Sam Perlin Hilary Bernstein
Executive Director Camp Solomon Schechter ADL Regional Director, Pacific NW
“Where Judaism and Joy are One!”