by Melanie Charyton, Olim Fellow 2011-2012
The Olim Program brings together staff members from four URJ Camps (Coleman, Eisner, Crane Lake and Harlam) for three weekend-long kallot (retreats) at each summer camp. This two-year program at our respective summer camps allows us to become leaders in the camp community and strengthen our skills as staff members. This commitment also provides useful feedback and suggestions from a staff member perspective. I decided toparticipate in the Olim program because it was truly the perfect opportunity to give back to the community and let my voice be heard-not to mention the unforgettable retreats that come three times a year.
As many young adults transition into the most exciting yet daunting chapter of their lives, many seem to forget about the amazing summers they spent at camp. For the Camp Coleman Olim Fellows of 2011-2012, we not only became a tight unit throughout the summer, but we are each otherʼs safety net as well, especially during such an important transition point in out lives. Our anticipation grew as we awaited the weekend. It didn’t just mean that we would get to see each other after three long months, but for us, it was a break. A break from our hectic lives and stress we were all facing. We needed to be with the people we had spent so many summers with, ﬁrst as fellow campers, later to Israel, then as counselors in training, and ﬁnally working side by side to provide unforgettable summers for each individual child.
One of the most impactful moments of the weekend was working at Medshare, a nonproﬁt organization striving to help impoverished communities by collecting thousands of pieces of medical equipment and shipping the products around the globe. When we arrived, we learned some truly alarming facts about some countries in desperate need of medical supplies. We each had individual jobs, either sorting through medical equipment or making press packets for future ﬁnancial supporters. Each one of us played a small yet vital role in helping ﬁnish the ﬁnal shipment of medical supplies sent to Libya. It seemed incredible that something so simple as sorting through medical supplies can be the key to saving someoneʼs life in the near future. Leaving Medshare, it is safe to say that not only had we learned about the need in the world around us, but we also felt part of a bigger picture and that somehow, a few teenagers had made a world of a difference.
Our last stop before heading to the 30528 was The Temple in Atlanta. Of course, to all of our fellows coming from many parts of the country, seeing The Temple was like seeing a masterpiece. Not only is The Temple a beautiful home to thousands of congregants in the Atlanta area, but it also has a rich Jewish history. We gathered in the social hall where we met Sandy Roberts, whose story would affect each one of us. Being a teacher in a one streetlight town in Tennessee, home to fewer than 2,000 people, her story was both eye opening and inspiring. As the leader of the Paperclips Project, her personality, dedication and love for children is something each of us can learn from. Although she did not know much about the Holocaust, her desire to learn aswell as inspire children to do the same is extraordinary. Many of her students hadtrouble grasping the concept of six million, so she, with the help of Linda Hooper and David Smith, strived to break the chains of ignorance and ultimately transform this small town. Speechless after hearing her tell this story of this simple yet incredible idea, we all made our way to a small town in North Georgia, where many of us consider to be our home away from home.
We arrived at our beloved haven in the mountains, and each of us couldnʼt contain our excitement. Gazing at the landscapes covered in red, yellow and orange, we knew we were home. Memories ﬂooded back as we entered the dining hall and later gave a small tour to the fellows from other summer camps. Everyone could tell how proud we are to be a part of this. The weekend went on to provide a little dose of that camp spirit that we had been lacking for a few months. We learned to be better Jewish leaders and realized that we can transform our surroundings for the better. We are all part of something bigger, and as Jews, it is our responsibility to help repair the world. Putting the insanity of college aside for a weekend to focus on our impact on the campers, we couldnʼt help but reminisce on our counselors. For they are the main reason we are here, to pass on our tradition and to hope that someday, our campers can be at their Olim retreat and remember us with a smile. Because nothing says “full circle” better than that.