By: Joshua Shapiro  | 

Time to Get a Real Job

On a cool autumn night this past fall, I sat with my family in our sukkah for what was our first time seeing each other since before the summer. As usual, the holiday coincided with many changes in the Jewish world. Aside from the inauguration of the “Sweater Weather” season, it was also that time of year where one concludes talking about the events of the past summer and begins contemplating his plans for the next one. For me, the answer to this question seemed pretty intuitive. After another enjoyable and meaningful summer as a counselor at Camp Moshava I.O., I planned on either continuing with my campers to Israel as a counselor for Mach Hach Ba’Aretz or going back to Camp Moshava in some capacity. The right decision seemed just as obvious to some of my family members, but not in the way I was anticipating:

“Josh, isn’t it time that you get a real job this summer?”

Truth be told, they are not wrong. Typical of a humanities major who is not in any pre-career track, I am currently unsure about my professional plans. After previously expressing my uncertainties, my family understandably thought it would be beneficial to intern in some field that piques my interest. What aggravated me, though, was not the content of their suggestion but the rhetoric. Working at a camp is often perceived as mere fun without any real-life significance. However, what I felt that night is that there is no job that is more real than working at a camp — both in terms of practical benefits and meaningful experiences. 

When I first worked at Moshava in 2019, my co-counselors and I were relatively immature, as might be expected of high schoolers. Immediately, though, we were initiated as role models for nearly twenty fifth-graders who watched our every movement. Whether or not we davened with intent, respected the sports staff members or spoke with honor could potentially influence the young campers, for better and for worse. Realizing this, we assumed a greater sense of responsibility. 

We were also asked to be creative in different ways. We made “sporty” boys actually enjoy arts and crafts, orchestrated engaging night activities from nothing and never failed to start a collaborative game when waiting for the next activity to start. We created a strong camaraderie in the bunk — not just through the typical daily activities but through personalized bunk shtick as well. Over the years, we all signed a bunk watermelon, tended to multiple fish and built a massive swing in woodwork, all of which helped generate a unique bunk identity every summer. Most importantly, we were responsible for ameliorating the social environment in the bunk, looking out for the kids who did not have as many friends and trying to ensure that everyone had a positive social experience. 

Such creativity is not always demanded from us in our everyday lives. We are often asked to meticulously adhere to classroom instructions or achieve what our superiors ask of us. We do what we are supposed to do, and everyone does his job. The counselor, however, is only successful if his thinking transcends what is demanded. An activity on its own is only sometimes exciting; but a passionate counselor can creatively make anything engaging, no matter what the activity is. 

Aside from the creativity found at camp, the rosh eidah (division head) position provides young men and women with a unique opportunity for leadership. Although in a company, the youngest leader of a team might be in her late twenties, at camp, the roshei eidah are often in their first years of college when they begin overseeing over a hundred campers. Everything — from the logistics of trips, camper medicine, bunk social dynamics, angry parents and sports league schedules–falls onto the plate of the division head. Many also assume that the rosh eidah’s responsibilities pale in comparison to the large amounts of money at a hedge fund or sensitive cases at a law firm. However, a child’s summer, as every parent understands, is no trivial matter. Camp serves as a pivotal moment in social development for many young men and women. For perhaps the first time in their lives, campers leave the comfort and familiarity of their homes and school friends. If one improperly supervises a situation or fails to acclimate each camper to his new environment, this can make or break not only someone’s summer but his sense of social security going forward. 

The practical teaching that stands out most from my years as a counselor is the importance of treating one’s workers with respect. What continues to profoundly impact me at Moshava is how my superiors consistently look at me as an equal. They provide their full attention to me when I raise an issue to them, oftentimes independently executing my request without delegating it to another worker. Even more powerfully, they regularly express appreciation and admiration for the work that the division heads and counselors are doing. While we often speak in the classroom about the importance of gratitude, I did not actually internalize the impact of expressed appreciation until my superiors recognized my own hard work after difficult days with the campers. Finally, once camp concludes for the summer and recruitment season begins again, the directors of the camp do not only charge the office workers with sending emails for staff retention; the heads of the camp often call you up to see how you are doing and what your plans are for the summer. There are years when I doubted that I would return to camp for another summer and began to explore other options. However, once I received a personal phone call or text from my superiors at Moshava, I understood how important camp was to them, remembered the profound role that camp played in my life, and signed up for yet another summer in Honesdale, P.A.

Yes, my years at camp have provided me with valuable “experience in the workplace,” but camp and the world in general has always been more to me than that. Camp has provided me with invaluable life skills. It is because of camp that I appreciate creativity more, try to express gratitude for people’s specific efforts and push myself to personally deal with matters instead of delegating responsibilities.

However, far more impactful than any lesson or life skill that I learned were the relationships I have formed both as a camper and a counselor. Undoubtedly, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a counselor is one’s ability to be a role model for the campers and be there as someone they can talk to, not just during camp but going forward as well. To this day, I am in touch with several counselors of mine from when I was a camper, and just this past winter break I met up in Israel with two of them. We spoke for hours, not only sharing memories from our bunk but also about the more important things in our lives. 

Oftentimes, my goal as a counselor is simply to be for my campers what my counselors were for me. Such a relationship goes beyond the confines of a campus in the Pocono Mountains; it stays with you forever. 

Every summer, I leave camp with a bittersweet realization that it might be my last time there. Eventually, I know that I will have to earn a serious living to support my family and will probably first need to spend a summer or two attaining some experience in whatever profession I end up choosing. Whenever I do leave, though, it will not be because working at camp is mere fun, a fake reality or a refusal to grow up. Because after all, there is no job more real than working at camp. 

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Photo Caption: Camp Moshava I.O.

Photo Credit: Camp Moshava I.O.