May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

You know you’re starting to get old when you preface an anecdote with, “When I was a kid …” So here I am getting old, as I begin by saying: “When I was a kid in camp a couple of decades ago, there was something called ‘a letter.’ One would write a note to someone else, place it in an envelope, seal it, put something called a stamp on it and put it in the mailbox. Magically, it would show up at the intended address a few days later.”

“Each night at supper in camp, letters would be dropped off at every table and the counselor would disseminate them. As campers, we waited excitedly to receive a letter, especially because it might include some money!”

“One summer on the first night of camp, a boy in my bunk received a letter. I couldn’t believe it. We had barely finished unpacking; how did he already receive a letter? He showed me the letter; it was from his father. His father wrote: ‘… actually, you’re sleeping in your bed and aren’t leaving to camp until tomorrow. But I miss you already knowing that you will be leaving.’I don’t remember if there was any money in the letter, but I do remember being very impressed with that father’s sentiment.”

This week, another wonderful season has begun here at Camp Dora Golding. Over 600 campers arrived anticipating a summer of fun and sun. As a parent, I can appreciate how difficult it is to send a child away for a few weeks, to live away from home.

In his book: “Homesick and Happy,” Michael Thomson makes a strong case about the benefits of sending children to overnight camp. He begins by listing eight things that we, as parents, cannot do for our children (although we wish we could!): We cannot make our children happy, give them high self-esteem, make friends for them, act as their manager or coach, force their growth, completely shield them from social media, keep them perfectly safe or make them independent.

Part of parenting entails that we figure out the delicate balance between setting appropriate and vital limits, and giving them necessary space to make their own decisions and often their own mistakes. Sending a child to overnight camp sends a strong message of trust and confidence in the child’s ability.

Rabbi David Ashear relates that in Lakewood, New Jersey, there is a row of houses which all share the same basic landscaping, including a tree planted in the same location at around the same time.

During Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, some trees fell, while others did not. After a bit of investigation, it was realized that the trees that were watered with automatic sprinkler systems collapsed; but those that were not watered remained firmly in place.The trees that were not watered with sprinklers had to develop deeper roots into the ground to ensure they received the nutrients and water they needed. The trees that received the automatic sprinkling, however, did not need to develop such deep roots and were more easily felled during the storm.

Parents who spoil their children and give in to their every whim, may seem to be showing greater love for their children. But, with time, it becomes clear that they are stifling their children’s growth and causing them not to develop deeper roots that will help them withstand the tempests of life.

Although overnight camp may not be appropriate for every child, the challenge to allow children space to develop on their own and gain their own life experience definitely is. Every parent wants their child to be able to develop roots that penetrate deeply, well beneath the superficial surface.


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author. He is a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, and an experienced therapist, recently returning to seeing clients in private practice, as part of the Rockland CBT group. For appointments, Rabbi Staum can be reached at 914-295-0115. Looking for an inspirational and motivational speaker or scholar-in-residence? Contact Rabbi Staum for a unique speaking experience. Rabbi Staum can be reached at: [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at www.stamtorah.info.

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