I think it’s safe to say that working as a Jewish summer camp counselor changed my life.
The job taught me many important life lessons. It helped me pay my way through college, it connected me to Judaism and it created a camp family that will be with me forever.
Oh yeah, and it gave me my soulmate.
But even for those who may not find their future husband in the process, I would highly recommend being a camp counselor.
I began my three-summer career with Camp Gan Shalom because I needed a summer job.
I was working as a dishwasher at a local bakery, and being outside and playing with kids sounded like a pretty good gig in comparison.
I was about to head into my freshman year of college, and I needed some extra money. Plus, I was feeling a bit disconnected from my Jewish faith after the conclusion of my time in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.
I had no idea how much more the experience would give me.
But let’s start at the most basic level.
Being a camp counselor is just plain fun. Where else can adults spend all day doing arts and crafts, playing games, going swimming and making challah?
One of my greatest memories is an epic pudding fight we had on the last day of camp one summer. I was covered head to toe in a sticky mess, but it was pure happiness.
That day was more than 10 years ago, but it is still so clear in my memory.
I have never been more exhausted in my life at the end of a work day, but also never more fulfilled.
Beyond the fun factor, being a counselor gives you a sense that you’re making a difference in young lives. The connection between a counselor and a camper is something so special and unique. I like to think the kids I encountered in those three summers are better off having had me in their lives.
With all that’s going on in the world right now, and kids having to stay home and miss school to flatten the corona virus infection curve, this sentiment seems even stronger.
I see evidence of the positive impact camp and counselors have on campers with how many Camp Gan Shalom alumni come back and work as counselors when they’re older.
And the generations of counselors in almost every family I know show the positive impact working at camp has on the counselor.
It’s not just the kids that learn things at camp.
For me, the time when I worked at camp was one of the big transitions in my life in general. I think it’s that way for many counselors.
Whether you’re getting your first high school job, you’re starting college or you’re heading into adult life after graduating, working at camp is a big part of growing up for many of us who work there.
The skills I learned at camp made me a better person and helped me in so many aspects of my life now.
Working at camp nurtured my creativity, my problem-solving skills and my conflict management abilities. It taught me to work as part of a team and also how to be a leader.
It’s been so long that I don’t even put being a camp counselor on my résumé anymore. But I still carry the skills I gained there into every job interview I have and career move I make.
Plus, it’s amazing how many people you encounter in adult life who have a childlike temperament. If I can deal with a 5-year-old who doesn’t want to play ga-ga, I can deal with a difficult boss, coworker or customer tenfold.
Probably the most important things I gained from working at camp were my relationships. I came away with strong friendships, mentors and mentees.
And I’m now about to get married to my best friend.
My fiancé and I met because we both happened to take jobs as camp counselors in the same summer. But I’m also positive that our shared experience, life lessons and knowledge from our time working at Camp Gan Shalom is part of what makes us such strong partners in life.
Our story surely is not everyone’s story. But I guarantee you’ll be hard-pressed to find a camp alumnus who doesn’t have something special that came out of those crazy, fun, exhausting, beautiful summers.
So if you have the opportunity to work at Jewish summer camp, take it. I promise you won’t regret the decision.
Lauren Gold is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.