Lisa Handelman’s (Grown Up) Jewish Camper Story

What is your favorite camp memory?

My memories from camp are more a collage of memories than a single moment.  When I close my eyes, I can still see Girls 6 bunk, the pool, and the sunset from the chapel on the hill. I can recall being in a pack of girls who talked with a pack of boys and, years later, held hands as Fourth of July fireworks exploded. I remember being woken up early to “immigrate” to America and help create a Lower East Side street market and running through the woods to get to the newly created Jewish state of Israel. I remember the loud singing in the dining room and the quiet singing of Shalom Rav on Friday nights. And most importantly, I remember feeling connected, included, and part of something special.

My favorite camp memory is not about my childhood – it’s about being at camp with my own children.  As the inclusion coordinator at Capital Camps I got to see my children grow up at camp. My kids were ten, eight, six and three when we started camp together. While I remember my kids swimming in the lake, playing soccer and mastering the ropes course, my favorite memories are watching them connect to their friends and admire their counselors. I carry in my wallet a photograph of a spontaneous moment when we, as a family, lead the camp in the blessing after the meal.

Why is it important to provide more opportunities for local kids to experience Jewish summer camp?

As a family we are very grateful for the gifts we were able to give our four children.  They attended a Jewish preschool, belonged to a JCC, were members of congregation, and attended Jewish Day School. Camp was the gift that connected them all together at an emotional level.  Recently, one of my children said that if she could only give one of these gifts to her own children, she would pick camp – it was and is that important. Camp is magical. It is the place where campers and staff can have the opportunity to be their best selves. Jewish education, formal and informal, is the greatest gift we can give our children. I would like to see all our local children experience Jewish summer camp.  I believe there is a Jewish camp that is the right match for all our local kids.

Was there a memorable life lesson that you took away from your camp experience?

The power of belonging, being accepted, and being included. Growing up, camp was where I felt I belonged. As the inclusion coordinator, I have helped campers who need additional support so that they can have the opportunity to be part of the magic of camp. As campers, all four of my children felt connected to their peers and their counselors. Knowing there is a place, a community, where you belong is a powerful life lesson.

Do you think your time at camp influenced your work in the Jewish community?

If it wasn’t for my summers at Jewish summer camp, I don’t think I would be working in the Jewish community today. Growing up in a town where being Jewish was a minority and the local country clubs still didn’t accept Jews, camp is where I got to experience a vibrant Jewish community. Camp connected me to a community—first to a bunk, to counselors and staff role models, and later to life-long friends. It infused in me a Jewish feeling, something I wanted to pack in my duffle bag and take home with me.