After a long and challenging year, it is a relief to realize that summer is on the horizon and things are looking up.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, it looks increasingly likely that we will be able to resume some of our most beloved summer activities, including in-person Jewish summer camp. We at Camp Gan Shalom are excitedly planning for all contingencies, and we want to get you excited, too!
Admittedly, that excitement may be difficult to muster after so much time spent under pandemic restrictions.
Our experience over the past year reminds me of the Talmudic tale of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a great sage who had to flee for his life along with his son after making some unflattering comments about the Roman authorities.
Bar Yochai and his son escaped into the wilderness, where they found a cave to hide in. Luckily for them, a miracle occurred, and a carob tree and a well sprang up in the cave to provide them with food and fresh water.
Father and son remained in their cave, studying Torah, praying, and subsisting on carobs and water for 13 years until it was safe for them to emerge. Upon exiting their cave, bar Yochai and his son encountered fellow Jews going about their daily lives and were so incensed by their neglect of prayer and study that they used their hitherto unmentioned laser-eye powers to burn the village to the ground.
At that point, an angel appeared and told them to get back into their cave for one more year to reassess their behavior before emerging again with a more chilled-out attitude.
For the last year, many of us have felt like bar Yochai or his son in that cave. We have been isolated and afraid, subsisting on modern miracles like DoorDash and Instacart while waiting for our chance to emerge.
This feeling of isolation has been especially acute for children, who have had to stay glued to Zoom while watching the soccer season slip away. This past year may well have felt like 13 years to children, who perceive time to move more slowly than adults do.
While some children have been able to attend school in person at least some of the time, or have enjoyed socially distanced play dates or been able to escape to the country with relatives, this past year has still been traumatic for them. Just as was the case for bar Yochai and his son, helping our children, and ourselves, to emerge from our caves and re-enter the world will pose some real challenges.
At Camp Gan Shalom, our goal is to make this process as smooth as possible without ignoring the reality that we are not entirely done with our Romans yet. It is crucial right now that we come together and provide some normalcy and socialization for our children.
We believe that our mission to provide a superior Jewish day camp experience makes us especially well-suited to ease children’s reintegration into the world. We are exploring creative solutions to our current challenges while redoubling our commitment to campers’ and staff’s health and safety to craft a quintessentially Gan Shalom experience.
If you have or know a child from elementary to middle school age, look us up https://jewishsgpv.org/our-work/youth-and-teens/camp-gan-shalom, and check out our FAQ page at https://jewishsgpv.org/camp-faq. And don’t be afraid to reach out by phone or email. We at Camp Gan Shalom look forward to helping our community’s children transition from their caves into the open air, ideally without any laser-eye mishaps.
BENJAMIN PHELPS IS the Director of Camp Gan Shalom and a contributing writer to JLife Magazine.