By: Sophie Stillman (2015 Staff Member)
I have cried every summer for the past nine years.
In 2006, as an eleven year old, I made the decision that it would be my last summer at Herzl. As a competitive figure skater, to remain at an elite level, it was not in my best interest to spend the summers off the ice. Every year after that decision was made, I cried as I watched my brother, sister, and cousins smiling as they got on the camp bus together. I was heartbroken, jealous, and longing for a little bit of Herzl magic in my life.
This past summer I decided the crying needed to stop. I came to the conclusion that the only way that could happen was if I went back to camp on staff. So I did– and I still cried, but for very different reasons.
Summer 2015 was the best summer I’ve ever had, and possibly will ever have. B’yachad 2015, thanks to our amazing campers, staff, and program directors, was an incredible experience. In fact, we had the best campers ever (but I may be bias). Many of my campers have expressed that, as their staff, we are their biggest role models. What they don’t know is that they are my role models just as much as I am theirs. In the course of six weeks I watched kids become leaders, step outside of their comfort zones, and be completely confident in their own skin. I watched kids start the summer not really knowing one another, and becoming inseparable in a matter of weeks.
Being on staff at Herzl was both the most challenging and the most rewarding job I have ever had. I helped campers work through the teenage angst that I’m convinced I still haven’t gotten through. I helped them iron out the kinks in their psyches and learn to love themselves, flaws and all– something I have struggled with myself. I helped them realize and understand their Jewish identities, which despite having an extensive Jewish background, I have only recently come to understand myself.
However, camp is not only a place for campers to grow.
I walked into staff week knowing around fifteen people. I came out of the summer with a whole new family of 100. I started the summer having never sang out loud in front of people that weren’t my family. This summer I sang every day. I started the summer walking nervously around the Chadar worried what people were thinking of me. I ended it wearing fuzzy penguin pajama pants and a bucket hat to breakfast and belting out “Rather Be.”
While I went back to camp so that I wouldn’t cry, my goal wasn’t accomplished.
I still cried, and I still cry occasionally when I think about camp. But these aren’t sad tears anymore; these are happy tears. I cry because I know that I have finally found my happy place, the place where I can be my absolute weirdest self, my home away from home. I cry because I have finally found the people that will not only be accepting when I do something weird or goofy, but I have found people who will join me.
While I’m sad it took me so many years to get back to camp, saying I’m thrilled to be a part of the Herzl family would be an understatement. While camp is still a ways away, nothing excites me more than getting back to my happy place.