Nice is the Norm

  • When I first started working at Tel Noar, one of my favorite things was to ask current and past staff members about their experiences at camp to gain some insight and perspective on what made Tel Noar tick. I heard amazing stories of lifelong friendships, memories about gamedays and Color War, and fun anecdotes about living in chugs and being a part of a small community. I loved the stories, many were similar to my own summers spent in Pembroke, but there was one conversation that stood out to me that I still think about. I asked a counselor, who was preparing to spend his fourth summer at camp, how he would describe CTN. He told me that at camp “nice is the norm”. And then I got to experience it, and feel so lucky to still be experiencing it 6 years later.

    Camp is the place where you can get on stage with three of your best friends during Lip Sync Battle and make complete fools of yourself, but still be greeted with high fives and “good jobs” as you find your way back to your seat. A place where Brooke and Gabi can do a step dance duo performance, scared to pieces, in front of all of camp and get a standing ovation. Their nerves were reaffirmed by the hugs and cheers as they ran out to “lake it” with their step instructor, Sherman, proudly standing by on Saturday night. Sherm is new to our camp community but stepped (see what I did there?) into his role here seamlessly. His gentle, steady nature brought warmth to his elective groups and to camp, an amazing addition to the kindness that we see every day here.

    There’s one day every year, where I end the afternoon being completely exhausted, but incredibly inspired. Prospective Family Day has historically involved 25 – 30 potential families, and while the programming of the day didn’t change much from previous summer’s events, this year it was all hands on deck. Over 55 families, more than 200 future campers and parents, joined us at camp for an afternoon of s’mores, boating, swimming, BBQ and tie dye. I was anxious that the intimacy and close-knit family feel of CTN might get lost in the crowd…I was so wrong. We paired up an older and younger current camper and assigned them to small groups of 4-6 prospective kids. I watched 10 year-old campers transform and take on the role of a “mini” counselor, making sure their gluten0-free camper had the right bread and reapplied sunscreen throughout the day. I laughed knowing that tomorrow they would resume the role of needing to be reminded themselves, but loved the brief moment of responsibility that they demonstrated.

    Our campers were kind, welcoming and enthusiastic, everything we needed them to be, without us even needing to ask. That’s a Tel Noar kid, and that’s the norm. The next night a family that attended Facebook messaged the CTN page and said “Thanks for such an incredible experience on Sunday. Jared said “I never realized my lifelong dream…now I know camp is my lifelong dream.” YOUR kids created that. Whether they were the buddies for a group of little ones or just went to their activities as usual, everyone played a role in creating that experience and in contributing to making CTN the place that it is.

    The kindness and warmth of camp comes with us even when we travel and when we host. On Monday our Olim basketball team went to Tevya, Bogrim basketball traveled to CYJ and our Tsofim team welcomed five camps to CTN. Great sportsmanship and team spirit all around and even with no first place finishes, we had a blast. Our campers involved in the games shook hands and made intros at the beginning, and one of our water boys, Mitch, advocated for getting Gatorade for all teams and even took it upon himself to deliver the cold drinks to each team first before bringing a bin of them to our own bench. It was a great day of CTN pride and feeling the connection to our local Jewish camp community!

    Tuesday morning was filled with appreciation and lots of thank yous as our campers enjoyed a late, staggered wake up and then were treated to omelet bar catered by our fantastic Senior Staff. About mid-way through the bunks, I received a request to make Maya’s birthday omelet…my omelets are infamous for the magnitude and technique in preparation, so I couldn’t blame her, but quickly got sucked in manning the station for the next 3 hours. Smelling like eggs and onions for the remainder of the morning was well worth the 5 minute conversations and catch-ups I was able to have with about 30 of our campers. The rest of the day was sunny and fun as everyone went about their regular schedules, except for our dedicated drama staff and Seussical cast members who spent 4th, 5th and 6th periods putting the final touches on, what turned out to be, one of the best musicals that I’ve seen in my 20 years at summer camp. Drama Head Jess was patient, understanding and supportive of her cast members and staff and together they were able to pull off something amazing in just three short weeks.

    And what an incredible three weeks it has been! Some of my most favorite memories from this summer so far have happened in just the last few days. Some were moments of kindness and others made me laugh, but when I think back on this week specifically, so many come to mind.  The moment I realized that very few campers know what my job is at camp was a classic. Before being dismissed for a Kona Ice surprise Monday night, they were directed to find one member of Senior Staff to give a compliment to before getting into line. I got a lot of “you are the best camp photographer”, “you’re a really good counselor” and even a compliment about my nursing skills. I loved the reminder that for these kids, this is camp and we are “their people” at camp. Job descriptions and titles don’t matter, just the fact that we help them feel safe and well cared for. It was refreshing. So were the ice cold drinks delivered to staff members during a particularly hot day by Michelle and Marriah on a golf cart. While nice is the norm, so have painted nails become the norm, for everyone. We’ve got people of every age, gender, and role walking around with painted and glittered toes and finger nails, just because it’s camp and just because we can. Carving watermelons and making juice out of the remnants to distribute around camp, also awesome. Bunks 8 & 18 getting camp to themselves on trip day was only made better by a surprise boating trip across the lake for pizza lunch. All awesome things and amazing moments but one in particular stands out for me.

    At about 5am on Tuesday I was woken up by my walkie-talkie that I was needed in the health center, and as I rubbed sleep from eyes and got ready to quickly leave my lakeside house, I turned my AC unit off and opened by door. I was surprised to see Bunk 8 and their counselors, more than 30 guys, lined up on the dock, watching the sunrise and listening to their counselor share with them the importance of this summer and their role here at camp. I took a moment to listen, was almost moved to tears, put my hood on and quickly snuck behind a bunk to take a longer, but more discrete, route to the health center so I wouldn’t disrupt. I love when this stuff happens, without our help, or our input or guidance. Our campers get a lot of credit for the kindness they bring to camp and our counselors are also unbelievable, and they are unbelievable at creating these perfect moments for their campers. If I had to be up before sunrise, this was the perfect start to my day and this has been the perfect last week of First Session. See you all on Sunday, Shabbat shalom!


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