Phil Liebson’s (Grown Up) Jewish Camper Story

What is your favorite camp memory?
My favorite camp memory is of water skiing during my 9th summer of camp. That summer, I was part of a core crew that had been skiing together for years. The director of the ski program decided we needed a challenge, so he told us we were going to create a 3-2-1 pyramid.In typical teen fashion, we thought nothing of it. We worked on it for four weeks and finally nailed it. Now, when I look back, I’m blown away that six 12- to 14-year olds were able to stay focused and motivated and, ultimately, succeed at such a challenging task. It was a remarkable experience.

Why is it important to provide more opportunities for local kids to experience Jewish summer camp?
Camp is a place where kids can have fun, try new things in a supportive and safe place, learn to navigate social dynamics, and push the boundaries of what they think they can achieve. Every child deserves the opportunity to experience the benefits of being in an environment where they can be who they want to be, be seen for who they are, and do so in a framework that connects them to Jewish values and the Jewish community.

Do you think your time at camp influenced your work in the Jewish community?
Absolutely! At camp, Jewish values and experiences were constantly offered in ways that were subtle and approachable. Every summer, I would return home from camp without fully realizing the impact that these lessons had on me. It wouldn’t be until later in the year – sometimes much later in life – that I began to understand and appreciate how these experiences had shaped my journey, which ultimately led to becoming Camp Director of Camp JCC.

Was there a memorable life lesson that you took away from your camp experience?
The most important takeaway that camp gave me was a path. When I started going to camp, I had no idea that it would be anything more than an amazing place that I would never want to leave. As a teen, I became a counselor because I wanted to be there for the campers, like my counselors had been for me – and probably because I wasn’t ready for the fun to end! Even when I went away to college, I knew I had to be involved with camp, and that’s when I found the Master’s in Recreation Management (Camp Administration) program at Florida State University. All of these years later, I am still a big kid who loves to spend summers at camp. Now, I get to create programs that allow campers and staff to have amazing camp experiences and, hopefully, help them find their own paths.


Camp JCC Director, Bender JCC of Greater Washington