Week one! A Letter to Herzl Families

Dear Herzl Families,

The countdown is finally over! Summer 2023 at Machaneh Herzl has begun!

Each Friday before Shabbat, we’ll send a letter to all parents who have kids in residence at camp to update you on some highlights of the week. In addition to the photos of camp activities that we post on Campanion/CampMinder, we hope these weekly emails provide you with glimpses into what’s going on here in our beautiful corner of Webster, Wisconsin – snapshots of what we call the “Herzl Magic.” Whether you’re the parents of first-time campers whose Herzl journeys are just beginning … whether your kids are Herzl veterans making their triumphant return to camp for First Session … or whether you are parents of a 12th grader who’s been counting down the days until their Ozo Summer literally for years – welcome!

We’ve been so excited to welcome campers this summer to their “home away from home.” Shortly before the campers arrived, the entire staff got into a circle and began chanting: “The campers are coming! The campers are coming!” And then various counselors danced into the middle to shout out their own cheers about their excitement, which the rest of the staff then joined. They could not contain their enthusiasm to see YOUR kids bound off the buses and be welcomed to Herzl Camp!

Minutes later, the campers were here! Sounds of “Im Tirtsu,” “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” and “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem” (doo wop, doo wop) echoed through camp as each camper bounced off the bus and encountered the legendary ruach (spirit) of Herzl Camp. We recognized this moment in time and expressed gratitude for a new beginning by singing the Shehechyanu blessing as one camp community. Then, the counselors and Ozrim from each tzrif (cabin) did something “shticky” to introduce themselves to their campers – and they were off into camp to explore and get settled in!

The first day of a Herzl session has many traditions. “Lem lem” and cookies upon arrival. The first flag-lowering, where the campers sing our camp song “Here’s to Dear Old Herzl” along with the American and Israeli national anthems. The traditional first Herzl dinner restored for 2023 – “Are you ready for spaghetti?” Then, “Policy Shtick,” where the campers learn some of camp’s safety rules in a memorable and fun way (and a few “oompa loompas”), and “Opening Bonfire,” where we sing camp favorites, hear campers’ dreams for the session, and introduce one another as the sun sets. After a full day of fun, we sing “Rad Ha’yom,” have one more nosh (snack), and then counselors help their campers get settled into their cabins and lead a “lights out” activity before bed.

My favorite part of the first day of camp? That’s easy! It’s seeing old friends embracing after not seeing one another for months. And it’s seeing the new friendships begin to form – friendships we know will deepen this summer and that will last a lifetime. Friendships where people know and love you for being your best/most authentic/most silly/most true self. The kind of friendships that are best made at Jewish summer camp.

After a good night’s sleep, the first full day of camp began! Campers signed up for their first chugim (electives), and camp soon was abuzz with laughter, learning, and so much fun. Herzl favorites like “World League” are happening on the sports field and in Ozo Park. In Omanut (arts and crafts), campers have been making candles, shrinky-dinks, and challah covers. Our “Mad Science” chug made kazoos their first day — I’m sure their counselors loved that! As I walked around camp, I saw campers scaling the rock wall with Duane, other kids kayaking in Devils Lake with Talia and David, and still more Herzlites cooking up delectable treats with Batel in Mickey’s Mitbach, our awesome camper-friendly teaching kitchen. The fun wasn’t happening on camp grounds only. One of our new chugim, Book Club, was started by Alex, a veteran counselor who submitted a “chug innovation grant” application for this summer – they started their chug with a field trip to the Webster Public Library, and just a few minutes ago were gathering in Funkytown (camp’s central gazebo) where they were enjoying a chill afternoon.

When I saw some kids this morning, I asked them what their favorite parts of the week had been. Ozo Tyler raved about the card games and dance party he had helped lead. Margot told me about Tzrif Time – an activity just for her cabin – and how she was enjoying rock climbing. Claire, a new camper, told me she loved “making new friends.” What struck me was how comfortable they all felt already with one another, with camp, and with themselves. Kids need time like this – time to explore, create, and just be. At Herzl, there’s something for everyone.

As I finish this letter to you, camp is getting ready for Shabbat, which is a very special time. Friday’s schedule is a little different — a picnic lunch outside while the Chadar Ochel (dining hall) is being prepared for tonight’s multi-course Shabbos meal. Then, the “Camp Sweep” begins with the beloved camp cheer: “The Shabbos queen – she wants camp clean!” Every cabin and their counselors went around making camp beautiful for Shabbat to start – harkening to the Israeli kibbutz, where everyone has a role to make the community what it can be. Now, kids are washing up and putting on their white clothes for Shabbat. Soon, the entire camp community will gather in a Caravan of cabins where, one by one, each cabin will be “picked up” by the rest of camp. As the Shabbat Caravan gets underway tonight, the campers and Ozrim here for Summer 2023 join a 77-year legacy of tradition and community. After dinner, we’ll have a soulful song session that combines Jewish and Israeli music, folk songs, and chill modern classics. Soon enough, we will mark Havdalah tomorrow and embark on a new week. Next week promises to be amazing – chock-full of beloved camp traditions that you’ll hear all about next Friday. More to come!

On behalf of the devoted Herzl staff, I want to thank you for entrusting us with the care of your children. Although First Session and Ozo Summer have just begun, the staff have been here for some time getting themselves and camp ready for your kids. In training with them, I have been impressed with the staff’s thoughtfulness and love for camp – their mix of high-energy spiritedness and their gentle one-on-one counseling skills. We are blessed to have a great group of counselors, activity leaders, and support staff – all of them so dedicated to creating a Jewish home-away-from-home and giving your kids one of the best experiences of their lives. I love these staff. They love these campers. It is a joy to get to create camp for them and with them this summer.

Shabbat Shalom!

Josh Levine
Executive Director

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