By Bobby Harris | Director, Camp Coleman
As our collective Jewish journey continues into 5777, it is worth noting that North American Jewish camps have been the launchpad for hundreds of thousands of joyful Jewish journeys.
As a veteran camp director, I have witnessed firsthand countless individuals deepening their connection with Judaism and the Jewish community because of camp. In my 25 summers at Coleman I have also been able to see what so many people have chosen to do with their lives and how Coleman played a part in their journeys.
Below are three separate Coleman journeys — of a camper, a staff member and parents — that illustrate how each and every day we have the opportunity to touch and shape lives, no matter where they are on their journey.
Emily Groff: From the Back Row to Front and Center
In June I asked Emily to write a song to help launch our Health and Wellness Initiative at Coleman. Within a few days she wrote the lyrics to a song she called “Shine,” reflecting on how her journey nurtured her:
I’ll stand up, stand tall, even when I’m scared to fall
I’ll be loud, be proud, and be myself because I know “I’m enough”
Here at my home, Camp Coleman, I cannot wait to show them
Everything I can be with my Mind, Body, and Soul
Just watch me grow, I am here for a reason, Every Day and Every Season
It’s time for me to shine.
We’re one Kehillah Kedosha (holy community). I’ve got me and I’ve got you too.
“Shine” became an instant hit with campers and staff because it seemed to capture what so many people felt about their own Coleman journeys. I am sure it will be part of our camp repertoire for many years to come.
What is amazing about this story is that when Emily attended camp in her elementary school years, she was on the quiet side. She sat in the wooded chapel and loved the music during Shabbat services. Inspired by the experience, Emily decided that she wanted to become a song leader and bring this same joy and faith to others.
As a ninth-grader, Emily and several other campers recorded an original piece, Ani Yehudi. Since then, she has delved more deeply into music and is currently studying music education at Vanderbilt and is a Coleman song leader in summer.
Bert Rosenthal: Lifelong Leadership
One of the first people I interviewed upon taking the Coleman job in the spring of 1992 was Bert Rosenthal.
Bert, then a freshman at UGA, had grown up in Augusta, and in high school he joined SEFTY (Southeast Federation of Temple Youth), eventually becoming its president in 1990-91. Though he was never a Coleman camper, Bert attended what was called SEFTY Camp for a week at Coleman each August.
I hired him, and, as expected, he did a wonderful job and ended up returning to camp in various capacities, including the year that he led Coleman’s first Israel trip in 1994. After graduation, Bert consistently talked about how much both SEFTY and Coleman provided him with a foundation for leadership in the workplace and in the community, and he made it clear to me that, going forward, he wanted to give back to Coleman.
Just a few months after Rosh Hashanah, Bert will become the chairman of Coleman’s Camp Committee. This marks the first time in my tenure at Coleman that a former counselor will work in partnership with me as the chair.
The journey continues as Bert and his wife, Robin, have been sending their children to Coleman for the past four summers.
Mark and Linda Silberman: Engaged Parents
When Mark and Linda Silberman moved from New York to Alpharetta in 1992, they were interested in connecting their daughters to the Jewish community. Rabbi Harvey Winokur of Temple Kehillat Chaim suggested that they enroll the girls at Camp Coleman, where they happily attended for many summers.
Thinking back to those days, I still remember that Mark was usually one of the last parents to leave camp after dropping off his daughters on Opening Day. I later found out that it was because he had spent every summer of his youth at Brant Lake Camp in Upstate New York and just loved being at camp.
A few years later when we needed to make some capital improvements at Coleman, I reached out to Mark, who stepped up and was a phenomenal leader. Until that point, the Silbermans had mostly been involved in their temple and less so in the greater Jewish community.
During Mark’s time working with Coleman, the Silbermans soon became friendly with the innovative philanthropist Harold Grinspoon, who had just become interested in Jewish camping.
From there, Mark and Linda became very active in PJ Library, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, where Mark created a camping task force that helped, in the past three years, send 600 Atlanta kids to Jewish camp, increasing the number by 30 percent.
Bert, Emily, Mark and Linda. Four people — campers, staff and parents — who were inspired by Coleman and are continuing to make positive contributions in our community today. On this Rosh Hashanah I am thinking about all the Jewish journeys that I hope our camp and community continue to spark and support throughout the year.
Bobby Harris is the director of Camp Coleman and the director of youth and camping services for the Southeast Region of the Union for Reform Judaism.