As the temperature rises, and the smell of sunscreen and summer pervade the air, many of us are drawn back to our camp days. Feelings and memories—like lyrics to color war cheers and the joy of passing the deep water test—remain crystal clear. Perhaps there is a counselor or two whom you vividly remember. That counselor who was most energetic, exciting, and fun and left a lasting impression on you. The ability to affect children is a big responsibility and opportunity for counselors, many of whom are teens. It is the memory and the impact of two counselors that drive and inspire Rabbi Yehoshua Gold, director of Camp Shalom.
Camp Shalom, a not-for-profit camp, which is located on 27 acres in Chestnut Ridge, New York, has been in operation for over 50 years and regularly has 400-500 campers. The majority of the campers at Camp Shalom come from Bergen County and attend the various area yeshivot. Rabbi Gold, who has run the camp for the past 11 years gives counselors and staff a speech prior to opening day, “I tell them that they are in an incredible position because they have the opportunity to influence a child. Fifteen years down the road when I’m interviewing one of their campers, I want to hear about the counselor that influenced them most and that should be you.”
Camp Shalom is committed to providing its campers with a fun-filled Torah environment. The administration is comprised of professional, experienced educators who have a passion for working with kids. Regarding the camp’s administration, Rabbi Gold said, “They are a seasoned, creative and knowledgeable group who are committed and dedicated to giving these kids a
summer experience they will never forget.” The focus on education comes from Rabbi Gold’s belief that the informal camp environment is an “opportunity for kids to learn and grow in an informal setting. The children don’t realize how much they are learning because they are having fun; there’s no pressure, and they can put their guard down.” Rabbi Gold explained that developing social skills, like how to be part of the crowd and how to make friends, are things schools are not always able to focus on enough and yet are as equally important as math and science.
According to Rabbi Gold, the camp environment has changed dramatically over the last ten years. Specialty camps have arrived on the scene which offer all kinds of programs designed to appeal to the particular interests of children. Camp Shalom has evolved as well and developed specialty based tracks including a sports track for younger children and a non-sports track for older children. A camper’s day is filled with age appropriate specialties they can choose from providing them with activities they enjoy. “These choices can often be very exciting as they are exposed to a new activity like Pilates, science or woodworking and learn to enjoy something they never experienced before,” said Rabbi Gold.
While it would be easy to rest on their laurels and long history at Camp Shalom, Rabbi Gold and his team are instead constantly trying to tweak and modify their program. The goal is to appeal to a wide range of children and interests.
At the end of the summer, the Camp Shalom staff gathers and discusses what worked and what didn’t. This is in line with Rabbi Gold’s philosophy, “Never be satisfied with the status quo.” Each year, Camp Shalom has a different theme which ties into weekly activities and what campers learn about. The theme for summer 2017 is “Shalom Around the World” and children
will experience something from around the world on their theme day activities, learning and snack.
While popular belief is that camp is a luxury, rather than a necessity, Rabbi Gold believes that children truly need a camp experience in the summer to round o their social, emotional and academic growth. These beliefs are the reason Camp Shalom is a non-profit organization. It also drives Rabbi Gold to be very careful of costs and to keep tuition as low as possible. “Because camp is a necessity for children, our community has a responsibility to provide it,” said Rabbi Gold. The Camp Shalom application give parents the opportunity to contribute to a fund to assist those in need. There is also an option for parents to apply for financial aid.
In August, when camp comes to a close and children recall their summer, Rabbi Gold hopes they will be able to say they had a blast, learned new skills and made great friends, while parents will marvel at their children’s amazing experience and their growth in Yiddishkeit. This is the goal for every child and this is what makes Camp Shalom “A Summer of Fun the Torah Way!”
- Originally published in the July/August edition of The Shopping Maven. Written by Larry Bernstein