Giving back to the place that has given us so much for more than half a decade felt empowering, especially this summer. Knowing that our signatures will be tucked away on the inside of our project forever and knowing that we are starting our legacy of giving back to camp in new ways means so much to us. This summer has been pretty lackluster for us otherwise, but returning to camp for a few hours filled us with the energy, lightheartedness, and happiness we had six years ago when we arrived there for our first summer, and that is a testament to how wonderful CW is. While walking through camp, we found ourselves reminiscing, talking about camp and smiling the whole time. Even though we all had to spend this summer away from our home away from home, we want the entire Camp Wise community to know that camp still feels like camp, and that giving back to camp helped remind us of how much it has impacted us in our lives.
Eight years, three houses and two states later, we now live in Cleveland and the one constant that has remained for our family is Camp Wise. It is where our children, now teenagers, have found themselves. It is where they have learned independence. It is where they have learned how to enjoy the muddy, rainy camp summers more than the hot and dry ones. On a regular basis, they debate whether potato bar constitutes as a full meal. They know that they have a community that wraps around them and supports them. Toasted cheese. Chugs and more chugs. And, as one of our kids says, “Camp Wise is a feeling; you can’t label it or define it by one word. It IS Camp Wise.”
Undoubtedly, this has been a challenging year for everyone. For us, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, spelled out the postponement of our wedding – something we naturally had been incredibly excited about and planning for well over a year. But as two life-long Camp Wisers, we were fortunate enough to have developed the skills and ability to adapt, adjust, and roll with the cards we were dealt while managing to find the positive in any situation (or you could say, making lemonade flavored bug juice out of lemons!).
We have often said that the decision our parents made in sending us to Camp Wise was the single most impactful decision on the trajectory of our lives. For both of us, camp was a place where we had the opportunity to explore our identities and become the best versions of ourselves, which ultimately led us to finding each other.
I love Camp Wise because…it’s where I met my best friends, discovered who I really am, and how to embrace everything that is great in life; it taught me how to be unapologetically myself and raised my expectations of the person I could be; you can make a purple soup with your village at 7:45 am; it shaped who I am as a leader, friend, community member, and Jew.
Last summer, my first-ever summer at Camp Wise, I had the best summer of my life. Whether it was playing Name That Tune on the Solel bus (shout out to the front of the bus gang), playing cards on the deck, trips to Cincinnati and to Buffalo, Shabbat services, or talking, laughing, and singing together in the yurts, there was never a dull moment. If you had seen me at Solel Havdalah, you probably would have thought I had been going to camp for 8 years because of how much I was crying.
Whether you’re a first year camper, staff member, alumnus, horse from the stables, or anything in between, we all have different opinions on what the BEST part of Camp Wise is. A common answer might be Maccabiah (color wars). It’s hard to deny how epic it is to cheer until your voice gives out. Maybe for some, it’s the first meal at camp where the Chadar Ochel (dining hall) is filled with cheers that have been building since the campers were last all together a year before. For others, it might be spirit circle after Shabbat dinner where we jump up and down and sing to celebrate the end of the week. If you haven’t caught on by now, we like to cheer, a lot.
It is with deep sadness that the Board and professional leadership of the Mandel JCC and Camp Wise have made the very painful and difficult decision to cancel our Camp Wise Summer 2020 season. After careful consideration and consultation with experts, it became increasingly clear that the risks to bringing our community together in-person this summer would be extraordinarily unique and challenging with no guarantee of the safety and well-being of anyone. Ultimately, the decision was made and founded upon one goal – to safeguard the health and wellbeing of everyone in our community. This includes our professional and summer staff, the returning campers who love their summers spent at Camp Wise, the new campers who were looking forward to their first overnight camp experience, their families at home, and others they are connected to and responsible for in their communities. In this unprecedented moment in time, we believe it is incumbent upon us to do what we ask our campers and staff to strive for every day each summer, which is to live by our Camp Wise values, even when it’s hard and involves sacrifice.
As we begin to adjust to new routines for working and learning at home, we hope that the programming that Camp Wise has offered virtually has been a source of comfort and positivity for you and your families. We have enjoyed connecting with you all in this way, and we are committed to continuing to bring Camp Wise virtual programs and opportunities for connection during this time. On a personal note, I have loved connecting with campers, parents, staff, and alumni over the last few weeks and I am reminded of the resilience and the strength of our community.
I really value how much Camp Wise cares about bringing international staff to camp. The cultural exchange it affords provides a great opportunity for campers to learn about the rest of the world, and it gives staff a chance to learn about and experience life in a pluralistic Jewish community (whether they’re Jewish or not). One of my fondest memories is spending time with my campers, sharing stories of my home, answering their questions, laughing at silly different words we have for the same thing, and then debating which one is the right one!