Week 3 – A Letter from Camp

Dear Herzl Families,

The ruach (spirit) here on Mickey Smith Parkway is off the charts! Welcome to the first week of Herzl Camp’s Second Session for Summer 2023!

Each Friday, we will be sending an email to all parents who have kids in residence at camp — to share some of the highlights of the week. In addition to the photos that we post on Campanion/CampMinder, we hope these weekly emails provide additional snapshots into the camp happenings — the how and the why of what we like to call the “Herzl Magic.”

The Herzl Magic was in full effect as soon as your kids stepped off the buses and streamed into the Ulam through a tunnel of Ozrim cheering their arrival. The Ozrim are here all summer long as part of Herzl’s capstone leadership-training program, and they have been an exceptional group since day one. The Ozrim were so excited to bring back the tradition of hosting the first-day welcome in the Ulam, and I’m pleased to share that the Ulam was full and the energy was electric! As the kids sang from their hearts, I realized I’ve never heard such passionate renditions of “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem” (doo wop doo wop) and “Od Yavo Shalom” until getting to Herzl. And “Im Tirtsu,” the upbeat tune to the words of Theodor Herzl’s exhortation that “if you will it, it is no dream”? Each time we sang Im Tirtsu as another busload of eager campers entered the Ulam, the ruach swelled. Herzl’s stern-faced portrait hung on the Ulam wall above these hundreds of excited campers, but I bet Theo would have smiled ear to ear at the Jewish pride, youthful energy, k’lal yisrael, and pioneering spirit infusing the camp that bears his name.

After everyone got into the Ulam, we marked the first day of the session with the Shehechyanu blessing expressing our thanks for being able to reach and enjoy this moment in time together. Then, we introduced the staff including this session’s Yoetzot, Kim G. and Naomi H. We cheered some more, celebrated beloved Herzl traditions, and finally announced the campers’ cabin assignments. Campers met their counselors and Ozrim, and in a flash the Ulam was empty and everyone was out exploring camp! All afternoon, I saw once-tentative first-time campers laughing easily with their cabinmates as their counselors led games to help tzrif bonds form. All around camp, campers were getting acquainted (or re-acquainted) with their Jewish home away from home.

Soon enough, it was dinner time — and in true Herzl fashion, the campers were ready for spaghetti! David G., a longtime Herzl summer staff member and this year’s Kitchen Liaison, introduced our many food options and explained how the Chadar Ochel (dining hall) would run this summer — from new choices, to streamlined service, to the addition of a bedtime nosh. RK Zak taught “od lo ahalnu” and the motzi, and your kids enjoyed their first joyful camp meal of the session. It wasn’t too long before the music started playing and the kids were dancing as they cleared their tables. (Parents: if your kids are reluctant to do chores at home post-camp, consider borrowing some Herzl Magic and turning on this year’s Ozo dance, “Shake It Up”!)

At the start of this week we had some “heavy dew” at camp (it never rains at Herzl Camp, only “heavy dews”). Don’t worry, a little dew didn’t get us down. We enjoyed a candle-lit version of our opening bonfire indoors, where campers were invited to share their goals for the summer. I was struck by two themes that emerged. One is that so many campers want to stretch themselves in their activities and learn new skills. Thankfully, this year our incredible staff are thinking creatively, with longer chugim (electives) for enjoying camp favorites on the waterfront, in Mickey’s Kitchen, on our multiple ropes courses, and playing sports during World League. Plus, we have new chugim dreamed up by counselors and supported by Herzl’s new Chug Innovation Grants: electives such as Book Club, Sports Analytics, Volleyball, and revamped versions of Philosophy and Mythical Beasts, with more new electives in the pipeline. There is something for everyone at Herzl — so many ways for campers to customize their days, deepen their passions, and explore new interests.

Another theme that struck me at Opening Bonfire is how much Herzl campers are eager to spend time at camp with friends both old and new. One of the best things about camp is the opportunity for young people to rekindle friendships with people who know and accept them for who they are. Another great thing about Herzl is the opportunity to make friends from all over — from California to Israel, from Florida to New York, from Kansas to Nebraska, from Minneapolis to St. Paul, and more — and to develop the kinds of friendships that last for life. I loved hearing how much the campers want to make new friendships at camp, and in the past few days I’ve loved seeing those friendships form and deepen – and the session is just getting started.

At Herzl, we’re not only a camp where a bunch of Jewish kids happen to attend. We are a Jewish camp, a Zionist camp, and a camp that believes these moments we have together are precious opportunities for intentional bonding, learning, and growth. This morning in Z’man Kodesh, Ha’atid and Amudim campers braided challah dough and made challah covers for their Shabbat tables — all while learning about what Shabbat was like when Jews were wandering the desert on their way to the promised land. Habonim campers explored the text of the Adon Olam, one of the most familiar hymns in Jewish liturgy with its message that God is present in the day-to-day lives of every individual. There are so many melodies for the Adon Olam, and because it’s camp we challenged campers to come up with their melody to Adon Olam — the one that speaks to who they are in this moment of their lives. Thanks to Rabbi JP and Rosh Chinuch Emi, campers are able to connect with Jewish traditions and customs in ways that speak to them and are meaningful to them.

This week not only marks the beginning of Second Session — it also is the start of our much-loved teen programs, Kadimah and B’yachad, each now six weeks and occurring all together. From their arrival in the Ulam, to their ruach in the Chadar, to their thoughtful participation this morning in Z’man Kodesh as they explored the “why” of wearing white clothing on Shabbat, these teens have reached the next level of Herzl Camp. As they begin to view themselves as active shapers of their camp experience and the camp experiences of others, they are also being taught that Jewish leadership requires showing up — that their unique gifts enhance their community, and their community in turn empowers their individual flourishing. Kadimah and B’yachad represent an ongoing dynamic of tradition and reinvention. Led this summer by awesome RKs Sam and Zak, and with incredible staffs of counselors, we are so excited for the adventures they’ll have and the positive impact they’ll make on camp.

As I write this email to you, the sun is shining, the sky is clear, and camp is filled with the joyful shouts and easy laughter of hundreds of happy campers. I just returned from a fun picnic lunch overlooking a shimmering Devils Lake. Now, campers are resting before their final chug of the day, the “camp sweep” where everyone does their part to “bust schmutz” and get camp spiffy, and a time for getting ready for Shabbat. The transition into Shabbat enhances the Shabbat experience for all. Soon enough, the Caravan will begin — each cabin picking up the next one, until the entire camp community is a river of people dressed in white, all headed together to the Mercaz and then the Chadar to pray, eat, and sing as one. Tonight, our terrific shira (music) team of Tal, Celia, and Andrew will be joined at the conclusion of song session by a dear friend of Herzl Camp, legendary songleader Flip Frisch. We are so grateful to Flip for visiting camp and infusing her soulful energy into the traditions she helped build and sustain. Campers can’t wait for Shabbat, and neither can I!

L’dor v’dor – one generation caring for the next – is part of what makes the Jewish people endure in the face of all the odds against us. L’dor v’dor is central to Herzl Camp: Flip’s visit tonight, and Tal and team’s restoration of occasional lunchtime ruach song-sessions. Ozrim taking responsibility for deciding first-day traditions, while also introducing their own shtick and their own brand of the ruach for which Herzl Ozrim are famous (thanks for the Southern hospitality, Ozo Mel and Ozo Josh!). Counselors who once were campers themselves, now taking care of their own kids and committed to giving their campers even more Herzl Magic. Staff bringing back traditional chugim, while also creating the next much-loved traditions. One-time Ha’atid campers who a few years ago were craning their necks to wonder “what are those crazy people yelling about in the Chadar,” now standing taller as Kadimah and B’yachad campers who yell like crazy, love any chance to mosh, and want nothing more than to hang together in their Mo – inspiring the next generation of campers to wonder, aspire, and dream. As we’ll sing tonight with Tal and Flip at song session: “The seasons, they go round and round. And the painted ponies go up and down ….” From generation to generation, Herzl Camp grows, evolves, and endures.

This has been such a fun first week of Second Session, and the session is only beginning! Next week we can’t wait to tell you all about how we celebrated Independence Day in a surprising yet only-at-Herzl way. We can’t wait to share more stories about campers bonding, learning, growing, celebrating, and just being. We are so grateful that you have chosen Herzl as your kids’ home away from home this summer. The Herzl Magic is alive and well, and we’re so excited your kids are part of it.

Shabbat shalom,

Josh Levine
Executive Director

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