In recent weeks, much ink has been spilled in The Jewish Link (and in other publications as well) offering kudos, congratulations and words of appreciation to the owners/directors of those sleepaway camps that were able to put together programming for their campers this summer despite the many obstacles that the COVID-19 pandemic had posed.
I certainly join in on such applause and agree wholeheartedly that these owners/directors deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their tireless efforts navigating through the tumultuous times in which we find ourselves. That being said, I want to address what I witnessed over the past many weeks in Teaneck/Bergenfield with many of those children who were unable to attend sleepaway camp for various reasons.
When many of the sleepaway camps officially closed down in June, many parents and campers expressed to me how truly devastated and shocked they were. After all, sleepaway camp has become a necessary staple in the lives of many children, serving as a vehicle for them to grow emotionally, socially and religiously. It is an opportunity for kids to temporarily remove themselves from their homes and families in order to garner a degree of independence that they aren’t able to achieve (at least to the same extent) during the rest of the year.
Upon contemplating the significant void that had been left in the lives of many of our community’s children and teenagers, I decided to run a program for many of them. Ultimately, the programming that I ran was dubbed (by the kids) as “Camp Rose.” For me, the goal of Camp Rose was simple: it was meant to serve as a learning opportunity during which the kids would learn firsthand how to respond when difficult circumstances arise.
I spoke with the boys about the fact that we all had expectations for how this summer was “supposed to” look. For example, I had spent an entire year planning to run NCSY RTC this summer. I interviewed potential campers and staff members, I traveled to Boston and Toronto to scout out different hotels and sports facilities, and I bought tickets to baseball games, amusement parks, etc. All of these efforts were ultimately for naught. We discussed how the idea behind Camp Rose was to take the situation that Hashem had given us and to make the best of it. In that vein, the mantra of the summer became Gam Zu L’tova—“everything (that Hashem does) is for the best.”
In this spirit of Gam Zu L’tova, Camp Rose ran throughout this summer for boys entering grades 5-6 and grades 8-10. The boys primarily came from schools such as MTA, SAR Academy, TABC, RYNJ, Yavneh Academy, Yeshivat Frisch, and Yeshivat Noam. Each morning began with learning, generally given by a rebbe/rabbi from the community. I would like to thank the following rabbis for sharing words of inspiration with the boys throughout this summer: Rabbi Darren Blackstein, Rabbi Jason Finkelstein, Rabbi Chaim Hagler, Rabbi Michael Hoenig, Rabbi Josh Kahn, Rabbi Rafi Mandelstam, Rabbi Yoni Mandelstam, Rabbi Chaim Marcus, Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger, Rabbi Daniel Price, Rabbi Jonathan Schachter, Rabbi Yosef Weinberger, and Rabbi Asher Yablok.
After learning, the boys would play sports. The sports (basketball and football) took place at either the Sportsplex (turf football/soccer field) at Votee Park or the RYNJ outdoor courts and fields. I would like to thank RYNJ for allowing us to use its outdoor facilities during this time. After lunch (which generally consisted of either pizza, Chickies, a barbecue, or a noodle bar) and swimming, the boys would head out on that day’s trip. The trips included activities such as an aqua park, arcade, boating, Escape the Room, glow-in-the-dark laser tag, mini golf, golf, foot golf, paddleboarding, paintball, a ropes course/zipline, virtual golf, water tubing, and more.
Netanel Katz, an incoming 8th grader at Yeshivat Noam, described his rollercoaster of emotions as follows: “I was so bummed when sleepaway camp was cancelled. I was literally dreading the summer. But then Rabbi Rose saved the day...or rather, saved the summer. He gave us so many weeks of real summer fun—inspirational learning, sports activities and amazing trips.” In a similar vein, Mrs. Tammi Schachter, a Yeshivat Noam parent, remarked, “When it was confirmed that Max’s sleepaway camp was cancelled this summer, we knew that we had to explore alternative options that would be fun and safe. When we heard about Camp Rose, we knew that would be the perfect solution! Rabbi Avi Rosalimsky provided a summer of sports activities and exciting daily trips with dedicated counselors. We cannot thank Rabbi Rose enough!”
While I appreciate the words of thanks, the success of this summer wasn’t about me or about Camp Rose. It was about the willingness of campers and parents alike to accept the circumstances surrounding this summer with a positive attitude and to make the best of an otherwise frustrating situation. As we continue to navigate the ever-changing tides of the COVID-19 pandemic, it behooves us to take a page out of their playbook. Despite the curveballs that have been and will continue to be sent in our direction, we must continue to do our best to “roll with it” and to view this time as an opportunity to grow and to create a community where positivity and concern for others is the norm. This is what it means to truly live our lives with the feeling and attitude of Gam Zu L’tova. If these kids can do it, then so can we.
By Rabbi Avi Rosalimsky