Week 7 – A Letter from Camp

Dear Herzl Families,

I hope you all are doing well! I’m going to begin this week’s pre-Shabbat email with an update about influenza at camp. Following up on our email earlier this week, we continue to have a handful of cases of the flu each day. At the same time, numerous campers who earlier this week weren’t feeling well have now recovered and returned for normal camp activities, with more on the way. While it’s not fun to be sick, camper and staff morale is high. I’m proud of the way campers and staff are choosing to make the best of every day at camp!

We’ve been having so much fun here at Herzl Camp this week. We’ve had a hot few days, but the weather was much better today as everyone prepared for Shabbat. Like on a kibbutz in Israel, everyone here at Herzl has a job to do – the community needs everyone. The Amudim (“Pillars” – 6th and 7th graders) braided challah this morning. After our Picnic Lunch this afternoon overlooking Devils Lake, various cabins went to their “Camp Sweep” locations to pick up trash (known at Herzl as “busting schmutz”) in order to let camp’s natural beauty shine through. Our Ozrim (12th graders), who have been bringing such positive and caring energy all summer long, set the dinner tables in the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall) for the whole camp. This week, Shabbat services and Havdalah will be led by B’yachad (“Together” – 10th graders) – a wonderful way for them to take all the learning they’ve done since they arrived 5 weeks ago and put it into action for the community.

This week has been jam-packed with activities of various kinds. We began the week with Israel Day! Our large group of Israeli staff members (and, new for 2023, our 8 Israeli Ozrim) planned a series of fun activities for the campers — including games led by Israelis that they themselves played as children. We had some awesome Israeli folk dancing led by Hadar and Bar. We led age-appropriate programs for campers in their Z’man Kodesh (Holy Time) period. We concluded Israel Day with “Ruachfest,” a celebration with Israeli music as played by the Herzl rock band (AKA Rosh Shira Tal and others) on the Chadar Main Stage (AKA the fireplace). As our campers and staff rocked out together to Ruachfest and the crescendo of Israel Day, they were reminded that there’s so much more that unites us than divides us.

This week has been filled with so many options — so many great ways for kids of all ages to customize their schedules according to their interests, while also being challenged to try new experiences. Thanks to the vision and support of the Herzl Camp Foundation, for Summer 2023 we rolled out “Chug Innovation Grants” — opportunities for our staff to design and lead new chugim (electives) for a new generation of campers to enjoy. Overseen by Michael Arato, our wonderful Director of Program Innovation, chugim have been a huge success all summer long, and more new chugim are still being created. Brenna’s Pickleball chug will be joined next week by Ella’s Volleyball chug – such great opportunities to learn and play with Brenna and Ella, two of our beloved cabin counselors! Dungeons and Dragons is being led by Adia, and the kids who signed up are loving it. Justin, a returning counselor, was inspired by his friends’ success and started the Theater chug, where kids get to play improv games and are working up a play. Cait, one of our newest Herzl counselors, has been leading a Basketball chug and doing a great job — no surprise, as Cait herself is a professional basketball player who’s moving to the UK right after camp ends to be a player-coach in Europe! Even the Ozrim are getting in on the fun: Ozo Sage has designed the “Feel Good” chug, which involves a lot of self-care and frequent cucumber masks. From cucumber masks in “Feel Good” to rolling polyhedral dice in “Dungeons and Dragons,” these new “only at Herzl” chugim are resonating with the campers. These chugim are offered right alongside Herzl favorites that allow for kayaking, waterskiing, rockwall climbing, and more. After Shabbat, there will be one more chance this summer to sign up for chugim — at least, one more chance until NEXT summer, when the best of this summer will be combined with the best new ideas in a dynamic cycle that keeps Herzl both traditional and cutting-edge.

This week has also been full of field trips!

  • The Amudim enjoyed a beach day in Duluth. Devils Lake is cool every day, of course, but a day just for your age group at Lake Superior is pretty awesome, too. As a staff member pointed out, this was the “first annual” Amudim beach day because this is the first year for the Amudim program. From their time at Lake Superior to their incredible cheer (the whole camp knows it), Amudim is creating a bunch of new Herzl traditions — ones to which this year’s group can always point and then say with pride, “I was there at the very beginning! Westarted it all!”
  • Campers also got to experience some longstanding traditions this week — such as B’Yachad’s “Float Trip.” Doesn’t a “float trip” sound heavenly? For B’Yachad, it was! At Herzl, that means a relaxing day floating down a calm river, plus a special opportunity to camp out as a program. While there, the “Yachers” of 2023 continued to bond and make unforgettable memories.
  • Our Habonim (“The Builders” – 8th graders) got to enjoy the opposite of a leisurely float: a trip to Wild Mountain and the return of a long-standing Herzl tradition. Whether zooming down water slides or splish-splashing around, our Habo campers loved being able to have this special trip back on the schedule for the first summer since 2019.
  • Don’t worry about Teeder Nation! Our Ha’atid campers (“The Future” – 4th and 5th graders) enjoyed their own special time at Siren Beach, just down the road from Webster. Ha’atid has been bringing a huge amount of ruach (spirit) all session long, and I saw them as they were about to head out of camp — they were so excited to have their very own trip, and they had a wonderful time with their counselors and Ozrim playing games in the sand. Little do the Teeders know that their Herzl adventures are only beginning!

After Kadimah (“Forward” – 9th graders) had their big trip a few weeks ago, they’ve been busy enjoying camp and doing other Kadimah-favorite things. On Sunday, they were surprised when RK Sam and their staff sprung the news at breakfast that this was the day they’d be climbing the Kadimah Wall! A Kadimah tradition, the wall requires organization, teamwork, energy, and unity. This year’s Kadimah group flew up the wall — each Kadimahnik raised up (literally and metaphorically) by their counselors. As the last Kadimahnik reached the top, camp was buzzing – whoa, could it really have been that fast? Indeed it was: 5 minutes and 55 seconds! I think every Kadimah ’23 camper just made 5 their new favorite number. From this point forward, whenever someone in Kadimah ’23 sees “5:55” on a clock or watch, they’ll think of camp. They’ll think of what’s possible when you quiet the inner voice that says “I can’t” or “I’m alone.” They’ll think of their group — as they should, because the same people who showed up one Sunday morning to climb a wall together will be the people who will show up for them at simchas and other lifecycle events for the rest of their lives. Maybe they’ll even think of Theodor Herzl: Kadimah willed it — each and every person in Kadimah willed it — so it was no dream. 5:55 was no dream, Kadimah ’23!

In addition to the action of the week, we also paused to experience a time to remember and make meaning from difficult moments in Jewish history, as we commemorated Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av) with a “reverse caravan” on Wednesday evening followed by chanting from Eicha (the Book of Lamentations) interspersed with readings and songs. Tisha B’Av recognizes the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This is a useful day for kids at Jewish summer camp, as it reminds us here that the health of the community is up to each one of us — how we treat each other, do we choose kindness, do we avoid lashon hara (evil tongue), do we give the benefit of the doubt, do we welcome the stranger, and do we regard every other person at camp and on the planet as created B’tzelem Elohim (in the Divine image). It also reminds us that even when the Jewish people have lacked the physical unifying space of the Temple in Jerusalem, we endured because we’ve created new traditions, customs, and ways of living Jewishly. The Aleinu tonight at services at the Mercaz will remind us that we are called to practice tikkun olam (repairing the world) — something at camp we get to “practice” each hour of each day as we learn to live with others and as we strive to build community together.

Next week is our final week of Summer 2023, and the climax of the summer is going to be intense! We’ve saved some of the best for last — so many awesome things planned for your kids and so many memories still to be made as we end this summer in style. As special as this now-concluding week has been, so many kids’ favorite memories of the summer haven’t even been made yet — how cool is that?! My amazing colleague Danya will fill you in next week. Before we look forward to next week, let’s focus on the present and on gratitude. All of us here on the Herzl staff are so grateful for YOU, Herzl families. Thank you for these wonderfully silly, shticky, soulful Herzl campers. Thank you for entrusting them to our care. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to be part of their lives — and of yours.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Josh Levine
Executive Director

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