In March of 2020, our world turned upside down. My family weathered the initial stages of the shutdown, accepting the shift to virtual school, safety protocols, staying at home, and the shortage of toilet paper without too much fuss (camp gets you used to single-ply). However, the most devastating moment arrived with the news that Camp Coleman would not happen in 2020. My oldest two, who spent 7 years by that time at camp as Yeladim, Bonim, Kochavim, and Solelim campers, were devastated to lose their summer home, and more importantly, time with their friends with whom they bonded. They truly live 11 for 1, waiting every year for their time at this magical place.
Knowing how difficult it was to lose 2020, we did everything possible to make 2021 a reality. Our oldest got vaccines when possible, we spent the last weeks in isolation and took every precaution. Their ultimate goal was just to be here – two in Nachshonim and one a Bonim Camper. While they anxiously waited for camp, I wondered what the experience would be like this summer. Would camp be the same? Would it feel the same? How would they react, as some of their time honored camp traditions and rituals shifted due to the reality of the COVID-19 safety protocols we adopted?
It is reminiscent of the experience of our ancestors when faced with the terrible news that the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Rabbi Yehoshua worried that there would no longer be a place to atone for sins without the Temple. His teacher, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai responded that there are other ways, for we can atone with acts of loving-kindness. In essence, he taught us in that moment that life is not about holding on to the rituals and memories of the past. Intent, kavannah, means more than keva, ritual. As long as we maintain our intent, as long as we remain connected, we can find ways to adapt, create new rituals that help us move forward and find the blessings that we need.
From the moment we arrived at camp, it was clear that not only had camp adapted but that for the campers, the ones who matter most, camp was still camp. New rituals such as the Hoda’ot Baboker (morning announcements) at the Lower Athletic Field, different meal schedules, and a focus on bunk/pod activities were readily accepted. Campers embraced everything, happy to just be back at Camp Coleman. To my delight, I have yet to hear a camper or staff member lament any of the changes this summer.
One camper captured the spirit of 2021 at Camp Coleman during our Friday night Shabbat service. As part of a reading, the camper shared concern that because so much had changed in the last two years, they worried that camp, which had always been so accepting, would change as well. But, when the camper walked in the first day to the cabin, fellow bunkmates just dealt them right into the next hand of cards as if they were just picking up a game from 2019. As much as things change, the intent, the meaning remain the same. Camp Coleman is home, where our children always feel they belong.
Rabbi Adam Miller