By Robbie Berg, Coleman Alum
Camp Coleman is my home. From my first summer as a Bonim (4th grade) camper to my last summer on staff as a unit head 13 years later, my Coleman community has truly become my family. As I was missing my family last year, I heard about a new Staff Pen Pal program that was organized by folks at camp to connect the alumni community with current staff members. Any alum who signed up was paired with a staff member with the goal of writing a few letters back and forth throughout the summer, with staff members sharing their excitement from camp and alumni sharing some of their experiences as well.
I was luckily paired with two staff members last summer. One was a former camper of mine, Jonathan, whom I had known when he was 12 – now suddenly a 19-year-old with a group of Tsofim (7th grade) campers of his own. The other was an Israeli counselor named Gilad, who had just finished his army service and was spending his first summer at camp. I wrote to both of them about some of my favorite memories as a counselor and some advice about getting through the first few days of camp when everything can feel hectic.
In a world of emails and text messages, I had forgotten the thrill of getting mail – real, handwritten mail! I heard back from my Pen Pals about how funny their campers were, Maccabiah (color war), Shabbat at camp, and what they did on Trip Day. We exchanged a few more letters during the summer, and knowing how many of my Israeli friends I made when I was working at camp traveled around the country afterwards, I let Gilad know that if he found himself in New York he’d always have a place to stay.
Sure enough, he and another Israeli staff member (also named Gilad!) were in fact exploring America after camp and were planning on visiting New York City. A few weeks later, I had two Israelis – now camp veterans themselves – staying in my apartment, sharing all the incredible stories from this summer in person. They even brought me a piece of art they made in the Minsky Art Center – a piece of home I keep proudly on my shelf.
The Pen Pal program was such a wonderful way to stay connected to Coleman – its past, present, and future. And I know that wherever we are in the world, Coleman is family!
Robbie Berg is currently a 3rd year medical student at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. After serving on staff at URJ Camp Coleman for five summers, he spent three years as the Assistant Director of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy – East, a science and technology specialty Jewish summer camp in Massachusetts.