From the Camp Clipboard: 16 Summers Strong with Gary Kibort

Gary Kibort, Executive Director


At camp and in life, we all have our parts to play.  At camp (and maybe in life), our parts are always changing – certainly summer to summer and sometimes hour to hour!

It’s my 16th summer at camp and I’ve played many, many parts here at camp. There aren’t many roles I haven’t played here in Webster.  One of the great joys and privileges of these long days at camp is watching kids grow from Taster to Kadimaniks to Ozrim, then on to Israel for most and then return as summer staff.  Every so often even to year-round professional staff. Some years the growth is slow and some years it’s astronomical.  The return after Taste when they are now camp pros and stepping off the bus to their second home is especially fun.  I love getting their perspectives when they return to camp after they’ve been to Israel and all those camp games, lessons, and activities have come vividly to life. Each year, their part changes but every year they add to the community we build here in Webster in their own way. And for 16 years, I’ve been blessed to take it all in and marvel at this Jewish community that forms each summer.

This summer, like every summer, many of our parts have changed… Drea Lear is currently at home playing a very important part as mom to baby Reuben. That change is giving me an opportunity to walk in her shoes for a few weeks, playing her part at camp.  It’s been 12 years since I’ve been at camp without Drea by my side. It’s strange and yet I couldn’t be more happy for her as she and David start that crazy ride called parenthood!  And I couldn’t be more proud of the way all our summer staff and Vatikim have stepped up and out to fill the gap and keep camp running smoothly.

Sometimes the parts we play here are out of necessity.  The labor shortage we are in has given all our Vatikim (professional adults) a chance to try their hand as Kitchen Manager. Not surprisingly, the camp pros are great at managing anything with lots of moving parts, time constraints and safety issues!  That said, none of us signed up to manage the kitchen… So I’m amazed at how smoothly the kitchen is running and I am so grateful for our team’s flexibility and commitment to making this the best summer ever by playing whatever part camp needs. Of course, as someone who is here for every meal for 7 weeks,  I’m also really grateful for delicious food they are putting out!

Coming to camp is all about challenging yourself – try something new, be independent, take a risk, try again.  That is still true when campers become staff.  Camp staff learn to change on a dime, not just with a smile on their face but with the ruach and shtick that Herzl Camp is known for.  Camp staff are project managers, team leaders and team players at the same time. There is no better preparation for a successful professional career than a few years here in Webster.

In 16 summers, I’ve seen many staff move on to a “real job.” It’s a privilege to be part of their development and a real honor to see the people they become professionally. I love checking in with them on how their camp training benefits them and often sets them apart in the real world.

There is so much for all of us to be proud of here in Webster.  Your kids – campers and staff – are building a Jewish community here that will train them to lead their home Jewish communities in the future. In fact, one of my favorite moments of pride starts today, on Tisha b’av.  Today, many young campers will make an attempt to fast for the first time – supported in this all Jewish community by friends and role models. The part that I cherish comes later this fall, when I’ll hear from many about how they fasted on Yom Kippur for the first time because of the confidence and value they gained from their Tisha b’av fast at camp.  Some of the rewards of a summer at camp are instant – the smiles, the singing, the laughter – and some take a few months or a few years to materialize.  It is all part of the Herzl magic and I wish you could spend a few hours in my shoes to truly feel the nachas that comes from this work.  But short of that, I hope this blog gives you a glimpse into the big picture of a day at camp.

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