Camp Alumni 08.24.17

From Camper to Camp Parent

Kids Learn How to do Things at Camp

By Beth Kissileff, Jewish Camp Alumni & Parent
When I came home from Camp Ramah in the Poconos for the first time at age 10, I had a new skill. I had learned how to clean toilets as part of the “nikayon”(clean up) activities, that were our daily AM post-prandial task(except Shabbat when all tasks got done on Friday so we could rest properly for the holy day). My parents were thrilled with their dividends from camp tuition: bathroom duty became mine till I left for college.

Kids learn how to do things at camp  that they would never dream of doing at home.  That is the point of overnight camp. A new environment makes new things possible.

Beth Kissileff and Yael Perlman at the Let My People Sing program at Camp Isabella Freedman, August, 2016.

The summer before I went to college, I worked as a counselor at Camp Ramah in New England.  I wanted a broader view of life that summer, with different kinds of people. I knew working at camp would provide just what I was looking for, and it did.

It was scary being entrusted with the health and welfare of these children, who we had to ensure were eating properly at meals, getting all the shampoo out of their hair during shower hour and brushing their teeth properly.  I had never had that level of responsibility – babysitting for a few hours is one thing, but to make sure kids are doing okay both physically, psychologically and socially was more than I had ever handled.

The new thing being at camp Ramah in New England as a staff member led me to do was to observe Shabbat at a more rigorous level than I did at home. Shabbat continues to be a significant part of my life, which brings me great joy; this might not be the case without my opportunity to try it out at camp

Now, two of my three children are staff members at Jewish camps (Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and  Camp Stone); while my third is a camper at Stone.  This was the first summer my rising high school senior daughter was on staff at her camp.  I was once half-jokingly told that camp is for the staff. Camp is leadership training for the staff and I truly believe that.

Hearing my daughter’s stories, I think one of the most important lessons she learned this summer is that even if you aren’t exactly sure how to do something, you can have the confidence to improvise.

I love the sense of responsibility my daughter has gained as a staff member.

The first Shabbat she was home, she insisted on cleaning the kitchen to the standards they use at camp – food safety and sanitation for many under the supervision of a health department are much more stringent than my own, which can disregard an unmopped floor or a bit of shmutz on the stove.  After all, unlike her, I am not certified as person in charge of food preparation.

I think the skills she gained as a counselor far outweigh what I got as a camper.  I do, however, still clean my own bathroom.

 This post is a part of of a two-part mother and daughter series. Click here to read about Beth’s daughter’s experiences working at camp.    

Beth Kissileff is alum of Camp Ramah in the Poconos as a camper and Camp Ramah in New England as a counselor and a teacher.  Her kids go to Ramah Wisconsin and Camp Stone; her husband is a Young Judea and Camp Harlam  alum.  The fact that this family has attended Reform, Conservative and Orthodox camps must be unique!  She is the author of the novel Questioning Return and editor of the anthology Reading Genesis. Visit her online at