Wednesday, March 29, 2023

“Mommy, are people still wearing masks?” This was the first question our youngest son asked when he got off the bus this past week after a few weeks in the protected “bubble” of a shortened Camp Mesorah summer season. Unfortunately, we had to tell him the answer was yes, we are all still wearing masks.

It was a harsh return to the COVID-19 reality for my son and his two older brothers who all came home from camp this week. However, my wife and I felt so thankful that our sons were able to have a small taste of a normal summer. Although it was only for a few weeks, we feel that this opportunity was a very big blessing for us, and for our children as well. For a short time, they were able to interact with their peers in a normal, non-social distanced, corona-free environment. They all had a great time in an environment where the topic of COVID-19 did not come up much, if ever. We can’t and don’t take this for granted today and especially in light of the upcoming school year; with either no in-person school at all, or in-person school with masks required all day and significant social distancing requirements.

Of course, my wife and I aren’t alone in our gratitude that our children were able to attend camp. Our paper this week has letters to the editor thanking the staff and leadership of Shoresh and Camp Mesorah, and more from other camps that we will print next week. Last week, I received calls from happy parents of Camp Lavi and Seneca who wanted to take out full page ads in this week’s paper just to say thank you to the leadership at their respective camps for providing their children with such a special, safe—albeit shortened—summer camp experience. I was blown away as I had never received such calls before. We have never published thank you ads like this before and I am happy to point out these ads, which were published on pages 29 and 50 respectively.

All of these letters and ads got me thinking about hakarat hatov and I would like to say a heartfelt, personal and special thank you to three programs that really came through this summer for our family - Yachad, Camp Mesorah and HASC.

Certainly, this was not a normal summer by any means and I think all of us understood why many camps and programs were not able to open. Once it sunk in after Pesach that the virus was not going away anytime soon and the first camps started announcing closures, we mentally wrote off the summer. How could any camp open and run a regular program? For the camps and programs that did open, I am fairly sure this was not a banner year for them financially and I am sure that most lost money. All of them had to deal with designing COVID-19 testing plans, responding to state and local health departments dealing with parents with all manner of opinions on the ability of camps to run a safe program, watching the changing rules and regulations and addressing all kinds of legal issues, and in the case of Yachad and Mesorah, finding alternate sites to run their program. I am sure it was a crazy and challenging time to be running a camp this summer.

For us, Yachad and HASC really came through for our 19-year-old autistic and special needs son, Zev. He has had no school since mid-March. For him, Zoom classes
simply do not work. He is the kind of young man who really just needs to be around other people to be happy. Staying at home for the past few months has really been challenging for us and him. Yachad worked really hard to come up with a daytime program at Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck that Zev went to for the first few weeks of the summer and he loved it. He finally got to go somewhere and be around other people, do fun activities, and generally had a blast. Special thanks to Yachad NJ director Raquel “Rocky” Selevan, Kayla Blumenfeld, and Elinor Solomon. We owe you a tremendous amount for those weeks! You really came through.

Although summer sleepaway camps in the state of NY were closed, day camps were allowed and HASC started off as a day camp this summer but only campers whose families were nearby were able to attend. We thought briefly about organizing a daily carpool from Teaneck to Liberty, NY but that didn’t really seem doable or desirable. Midway through July, the team at HASC realized that they could operate as a sleepaway camp for adults over 18 and since many of the campers at HASC are legally adults, including our son, they could operate a brief summer sleepaway camp for a few weeks, and they did so, albeit on a much smaller scale than previous summers. We quickly signed up and Zev was off two Sundays ago to the place that he looks forward to going to all year long.

Zev had an amazing two+ weeks there and we were also grateful that we were able to get two weeks of respite with Zev away from home. It’s especially meaningful for us because we were just informed by the Teaneck school district that there will be no in-person school for Zev for the time being (more on this topic next week.) Thank you to Zev’s special counselors Aaron Mandel, Simcha Galbut, Mordechai Glatter, Jono Katz, Yitzy Stein, Julian Sternberg, Akiva Weider, and to the leadership team at HASC, Shmiel Kahn, Avi Pollack, and Rayzel Yaish.

For our other two sons, Eyal, a camper, and Noam, a lifeguard, Camp Mesorah was a real godsend. Keep in mind that no one even knew where Mesorah was going to be held going into early June and many parents thought it wasn’t going to happen. I was one of these doubters also. But Mesorah’s owners, Ari and Deena Katz never gave up. They did whatever they could to make sure that camp happened this summer. And it did happen...at Camp Na-Jee-Wah in Pennsylvania. By all accounts, including a few articles in this paper over the last few weeks, it was a special few weeks at the alternate Camp Mesorah site and my boys really grew from it, as did their friends. Yashar koach to Ari and Deena Katz and the entire Mesorah entire team!

For all of the existing camps and programs mentioned above and those that I didn’t, I am sure this summer was a weak one financially, with additional costs and far fewer campers than normal. Yet all of them pushed back, did not give up and did everything they could to make sure that summer 2020 still happened for the families and kids they serve. They really did something amazing this summer.

Yashar koach and thank you to all of our community’s summer camps, day camps and pop-up summer programs that helped make the crazy COVID-19 summer of 2020 more “normal” and the best summer possible in these challenging times, as we hear so often today.

By Moshe Kinderlehrer, 
Jewish Link co-publisher and founder

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