Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
Not what I was thinking when we relocated to Atlanta in 1980. Not what I was thinking when I accepted the position as director of Camp AJECOMCE the following year.
(Where did AMECOMCE originate? Who is the author of that name? The answers came from Mark Benveniste: His father, Morris, combined the A from Atlanta, JE from Jewish, COM from community and CE from center.)
What I was thinking was that I was so lucky to get the position.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved my recruiting job. Yes, I was a recruiter at a time when computers ran on DOS. I learned so much from all my employers and from the brilliant engineers I was placing. I had the distinct opportunity of doing mitzvot for young computer engineers graduating from Georgia Tech by finding them their first real-life positions in the tech industry.
I kept waiting for the wink that would lead me to my true mission. That wink came in the form of a friend who was with the United Way. He heard of the camp director’s position opening at the Jewish Community Center and called me immediately.
My Jewish camp experience was such an integral part of my development as a young girl, as a teen and as a Jewish woman. Combined with my commitment to working with children and young people to encourage them to become their best and healthiest selves, I felt as if I had won the lottery.
Of course, I didn’t. We all know nonprofit professionals do not expect lottery dollars in their paychecks. We hope but don’t expect.
My journey with the Marcus JCC allowed me to meet and learn from some of the greats: Erwin Zaban (z”l), Harry Maziar, Morris Benveniste (z”l), David Funk (z”l), Howie Hyman, Lisa Brill, Laura Dinerman, Sherie Gumer, Lowell Fine and Doug Kuniansky, just to name a few.
Supervisors and mentors Mike Lainoff and Harry Stern encouraged and believed in me, insisting I take on new challenges and guiding me to success. I believe no one could be as lucky as I am, having been given the gift of Mike and Harry.
Every time I thought, OK, I’m done, a new and fabulous opportunity would be offered. How could I say no? It became obvious to me the center was where I belonged, where I was meant to be, where perhaps I was even needed.
Every day I meet one of my camp staff at the center or in the community. They have taken the leadership qualities they gleaned from their camp experiences and built lives filled with relevance, love and commitment to their communities. Many of their children are in the center’s summer camps, teams or preschool.
Every day I am blessed with seeing the fruits of their labor. I refer to my staff as my princes and princesses: They were and they are true royalty.
I must digress with a funny story.
All my interviews (there were five, for goodness’ sake) took place in a building that exists only in our memories, the Peachtree building. Some of my girls were going to attend the Yeshiva High School, which was on the top floor of the building.
How incredible would it be to drive the girls to school and go to work in the same complex? I would save gas and get to spend extra time with my girls, a shidduch (match) made in heaven.
On my first day I reported to work in anticipation of meeting colleagues and checking out my office for the purpose of redecorating (my favorite activity). Wrong.
“What are you doing here, Shaindle? Why aren’t you at camp?” Huh? This is not where the camp is?
No one mentioned another facility, Zaban. No one mentioned the camp was at the Zaban facility. So the shidduch was not a shidduch after all. I had no idea what a Dunwoody was, what a Zaban was or how to get there. My bubble burst.
On the other hand, Camp AJECOMCE (now Alterman) was on 40-plus lush acres. It was just heavenly.
Folks will ask, “OMG, you are still here? You’ve been there your whole life; aren’t you bored?” A resounding no is my response.
So here I am, still here. Seriously, why wouldn’t I be?