Earlier this year I finally made the decision to fulfil my dream of working at a Jewish summer camp in America. One day after handing in my thesis and finishing university for good, I embarked on the journey to Denver. I had no idea what was about to happen but camp has changed me for the better in ways I can’t fully explain.

There’s no denying that walking into camp when everyone is asleep and waking up next to people you don’t know is incredibly daunting. However my fears disappeared quickly once I met the amazing people at JCC Ranch Camp. The first week, which was staff week involved a lot of icebreakers and training, but just being at camp with other Jewish staff reminded me of when I was at camp years ago. It was so nostalgic and camp hadn’t even begun yet!

I was hired as basketball specialist and a madricha (general counsellor) which gave me the opportunity to be involved in a lot. I got to be with my cabin a lot for activities like high ropes, tie dye and lots more, while also being able to run my own activity. Not only did l know my own campers but also many more from other cabins and units. With camp running for 3 different sessions this summer, I have been able to have 3 amazing sets of campers. I have also been very fortunate to be in the most beautiful part of Denver and although I may be in the middle of nowhere, the beautiful double rainbows and the insane views also just add to this incredible Jewish experience.

When I first made the decision to come to camp, it was one of scariest but the best decisions of my life and I’m so glad I took the leap to come. I remember when Jewish Camps USA sent me the link to JCC Ranch Camp, I rang them up and said “I’m not sure about this camp, are you sure it’s the right fit for me.” I was of course told that I could look at other camps but that they believed this camp was the best place for me, and they couldn’t have been more right. When Jason came to visit us at camp half way through the summer I couldn’t thank him enough and told him that I already knew I wanted to come back next year. This was the first and only camp I looked at and I am so glad I put my trust in Jason and everyone at JCUSA because had I not trusted him, I think I would be telling a very different story.

No one said this job was going to be easy and of course there has been challenges I could never have foreseen, but moments with campers where you know you have made a positive impact of their lives, make this job worth it. It didn’t take me long to realise that camp is my second home and the people here are my family. I never thought the friendships I would make with my co-staff would be as strong as they are. To think I have only known them 2 months is insane as I feel like I’ve known them my whole life. Knowing that in around 3 weeks I am going to have to say goodbye to my family is something I cant even think about. On one hand I feel like I’ve been here for a lifetime but also in the blink of an eye camp is going to be over.

I am forever grateful to JCUSA for giving me this opportunity and I know I wouldn’t have had the summer of a lifetime without them. It’s been one of the most challenging but rewarding jobs I have ever done. Not only have I grown so much as a person but I have been able to be my best self this summer and I am walking away with incredible memories I will never forget. I am so excited for what next year has to bring which will hopefully include the continuation of my camp journey.

Gabrielle Eppel
JCC Ranch Camp