Returning back to Camp Mountain Chai

By Sunny Rafaeli

I cannot think of a better way to spend two and a half months of my summer than being at camp. This is why choosing to return this summer to Camp Mountain Chai in the San Bernardino Mountains of California was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made.

It is extremely difficult to depict in words the experience that camp has given to me, so this will only give a minuscule representation of what it is like to be a counsellor. To say that being a counsellor at Camp Mountain Chai has changed me would be an understatement. As cliché as these next few sentences will sound, I cannot explain how accurate they are, and one is only able to truly understand once they experience it for themselves.

Working at a Jewish summer camp gave me the opportunity to express myself like no other place has ever, and probably will ever, be able to do and I cannot describe enough how grateful I am for this. Returning to England after camp had ended was extremely emotional, but I was happy knowing that I had created friends for life, and that I had come out as a more confident, independent, and open minded person. I never expected that being a counsellor and enabling campers to have the best summer would actually change my life.

The 24 hour long days are of course exhausting, but I can honestly say that the strength, confidence, and memories that they have given me is something truly magical and completely irreplaceable. Although camp only lasted two and a half months, the challenges, friendships, bonding experiences, song sessions, cabin activities, meal times, (I could go on forever) that we all partook in will stay with me for years and years to come.

It was during the first Friday night’s song and Israeli dance session that I told myself that I had to return to camp next summer. I am unable to do justice to the incredible atmosphere created on Friday night where all of camp dresses in white, and unite together in song and dance, but I can say that it made me feel a part of something much greater than myself. The fact I am joining many other returners this year is a testament to this fact. Forming a huge circle consisting of everyone at camp in it, singing a song which consisted of the lyrics, ‘I feel my eyes are tearing and I know my heart is proud’ gave me such a powerful surge of emotions. I believed every single word I was singing. It enabled me to realise how fortunate I am to be in this place, creating the most amazing memories with the most incredible people.

I could never have made such special friends for life, become so much more independent, culturally aware, confident, and learned such a great deal about myself through any type of internship, gap year, or training contract. Camp is, and always will be something that is irreplaceable.

I will never ever forget the look on some of the camper’s faces when they begged me to return for the next summer. It is truly empowering. This, combined with the letters I received from some of them after camp ended made me realise that being a counsellor is one of the greatest things I could do. It is amazing how the smallest activity or conversation you have with your campers can actually make such a difference not only to their summer, but also their lives.

The minute I left camp was the minute I started counting down the days until I could return. Now, the time has come and is it less than a week until I am back in the place where I feel that I am able to freely express myself, and be a part of something incredible. I only hope that as many people as possible are as fortunate enough as I was to be able to be a part of such a life changing experience. I can honestly say I have made best friends for life and I only have Jewish Camps USA to thank for that. The endless support and sense of community that they have created is amazing. Thank you so much for enabling me to have the best summer of my life and allowing me to realise my true potential.

Training Day

Training for Summer 2016 was held in April at the most favoured JCUSA venue and brought together more than ever before.

Everyone met their delegation and so many alumni came to support the new group of Brits ready to follow in their footsteps. The day was packed with so much fun and we would like to say a huge special thanks to the 3 camp directors who flew over to be part of such a wonderful day. Rachel from Camp Mountain Chai, Aaron form Seneca Lake and Allison from JCA Shalom.

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Campus Unit Heads

There was no surprise in anybody’s reactions when I told them I was going back to camp for my third year. It’s become a routine – come the beginning of June I pack up my stuff and fly home to Camp JCA Shalom. If you ask me why I keep going back my answer would be two things; 1) CAMP and 2) JCUSA.

Being involved in JCUSA allows me to be impacted in the same way I am at camp, all year round. There is nothing more difficult than coming away from the happiest place in the world (aka camp) and having to spend 9 months away from it, but being a part of JCUSA has let me live camp all year round. That’s the dream. By driving every one mad and talking nonstop about camp, I get to remember the feelings, emotions, memories and lessons I learnt there. I also get the chance to see our amazing applicants go from a conversation about camp, to an interview, to training and now, to camp… and over the process becoming part of the JCUSA family.  How I see it, is that it is like your campers; you watch them grow and develop throughout their camp journey. JCUSA is my camp away from camp.

As the unit head of Leeds for JCUSA I have been able to get to know all of the Leeds applicants personally and have worked with the other ambassadors to make sure that their JCUSA journey has the best possible start. I have talked about my experiences from camp, to inspire others to apply and change their lives for the better too.

Leeds has had such a great year, shout out to the Leeds ambassadors who are amazing, team work makes the dream work and I couldn’t have got through the year without their enthusiasm. From JSOC sponsorships we were able to wear our JCUSA gear with pride and talk to all those who did (or didn’t) show any interest about why they should go to camp.

All of our applicants from Leeds have been so great and I know that they are going to make amazing counsellors. As an ambassador, there truly is nothing better than hearing about applicants having amazing experiences or going on Facebook and seeing pictures of them at camp.

I’m so sad to be handing over the Leeds unit head role…but I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Abi Rodin, JCUSA Leeds Unit Head

Where oh where do I even begin. Ever since I went to camp in the summer of 2014, I knew I had a special relationship with JCUSA. After playing a big part as an ambassador the year after that, my passion and love for the organisation was clear to see (by everyone who has ever come into contact with me) and Jason asked me to be the unit head for Nottingham.  After spending several hours planning prior to going back to university, I felt comfortable to lead the way for prospective Nottingham students that wanted to work at a Jewish Summer Camp.

This took a lot of time and dedication, and a lot of people asked me why I did it. What many people didn’t know is that I took on this opportunity for 2 reasons; for Jason and for my passion towards Jewish summer camp. Many people compare me to Jason because of our shared passion for camp, and I have seen how much he cares about every single applicant. I knew he would not be able to run this alone, so helping out a friend in need is not a ‘job’. My second reason is that after two life-changing summers at camp, all I wanted was to be responsible for the happiness of others, and have the ability to send applicants to have the same opportunities that I did. Having a part in these people’s summers only enhances my camp experience and I cannot wait for them to come back and tell me all about their own.

Throughout the year, Nottingham had about 40 staff member. I rang them after reading their application to arrange an interview, coordinated it with my ambassadors who interviewed them, and then read their notes and then fed back to JCUSA my opinions. Although it’s hard to tell when you haven’t met them, just reading the way some of my ambassadors wrote about these applicants was inspiring. Specifically I would like to give a mention to Matty Davis and Bronte Snow, who travelled near and far and dropped whatever they were doing to help me out with interviews, they were superb.  My other ambassadors, were extremely helpful when it came to training, camp socials and other camp related activities.  With a strong alumni, we were able to spread the word about camp easily. 

I would like to say a huge thank you to Jordan Newfield who was helping out the whole time, and if ever I needed a couple of days space, would jump in and cover me with no hassle. He was much more than just an ambassador or camp alumni.

Being responsible for all these applicants gave me great joy when they ran up to me (usually drunk in Crisis) telling me about how excited they were for camp. I am eager to see which of these applicants return to camp next summer, and how Nottingham JCUSA develops. I no doubt know we will have strong alumni next year, keen to stay involved and help out in any way that they can.

In the least cringey way possible, my camp experience has changed my life and given me new friends in this country whom I know I will have for a very long time. Camp means everything to me, and having the opportunity to run this branch of JCUSA was a real treat.  JCUSA give the opportunity for students to change children’s lives, and I will forever remember how far it has come and how special it is to me for this reason. I know that I will always have a strong connection with JCUSA whether I’m in New Zealand, Australia or at work in January.

Adam Morrow, JCUSA Nottingham Unit Head

Yet another year has passed at JCUSA Birmingham and what a year it has been. When I joined the community that is Jewish Camps USA, I never imagined I would experience what I have in the last two years on campus.

Hundreds of Jewish students attend Universities in Birmingham, giving us as the opportunity to engage the student community. This was a record year, having interviewed over 40 applicants from the Birmingham region, giving students the life changing opportunity that is leading a Jewish summer camp. The above only presents part of what Birmingham JCUSA has to offer.

The highlight of the year has to be the JCUSA sponsored Purim Party, attended by over 200 students. The annual Purim Party event in Birmingham is always one of the main social nights in the city for Jewish students, but this year it was slightly different. It was the first time JCUSA has sponsored such an event and what a success it was. From JCUSA decorations, to a JCUSA themed photo booth, everywhere you looked, students could really gain an insight as to what we as an organisation have to offer. We are an organisation that embraces the Jewish community on campus, offering life changing experiences along the way.

We could not have had this success without an unbelievable team behind us. We had 15 ambassadors across Birmingham, offering their time and support to build the established community at JCUSA. On behalf of myself, Elana and Jason, I would like to thank all of those involved with JCUSA Birmingham.

We would also like to wish all the students travelling to camp over the coming month to lead Jewish Summer camps, the most successful and safe travels.

Zac Skry, JCUSA Birmingham Unit Head