Finding Comfort in Discomfort - Foundation for Jewish Camp
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By Anna Levine

Watching and helping campers become whoever they want to be is one of the most beautiful moments for a counselor like me. Unfortunately, when I received the heartbreaking news that Capital Camps would be unable to open their facility this summer, I was devastated. Although the news was no surprise, I froze as I tried comprehending the reality of not returning to this special place. I thought about the Israeli dances we would not do, the s’mores that would not be made, and the camping trips we would not take. But attending this year’s virtual Cornerstone Seminar (Foundation for Jewish Camp’s professional development program for returning camp counselors) gave me a new optimistic perspective on this unusual summer, giving me the tools to make a positive difference in the lives of my campers — even if it’s from a distance.

To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I applied to be part of the 2020 Cornerstone Fellowship cohort through Capital Camps. I knew I was excited to spend three days increasing my skills as a Jewish educator alongside other returning counselors from across North America, — eagerly looked forward to the mentorship I’d receive from experts in different workshops and sessions — but I didn’t quite know what to expect.

I was even more confused as to how it would work virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. Would I be able to make connections with other fellows and learn about their camp experiences if I was not able to talk to them face-to-face? How would I form relationships with faculty and staff if I could not meet with them after sessions to connect and ask questions? Was the in-person experience I loved about camp simply impossible? I felt unmotivated to attend the Cornerstone sessions I had so enthusiastically signed up for.

This uncertainty was immediately put at ease the moment I saw how excited and enthusiastic the Cornerstone staff was. In the specialty track I signed up for, Mental Health and Wellness, we discussed different self-care practices that could translate into community care action both at camp and at home. I could feel everyone’s energy leaping off the screen and by the end I hardly remembered we weren’t in person.

My favorite experience was a session called “Getting Comfortable with Discomfort.” We discussed how important it is to have conversations around controversial topics and listen to others — not to change our own opinions necessarily, but to gain new perspectives and be placed in a state of discomfort. The discomfort we discussed posed direct parallels to the uncertainty I felt about Cornerstone being virtual. This session not only validated my feelings, but it gave me a new perspective on how to cope with it. At traditional camp, discomfort, like homesickness or trying new things, is often part of the experience. This session taught me that instead of dismissing what we think are negative feelings, we should see them as opportunities to grow. Camp is full of these opportunities, both at an individual level and also as part of a team. These are the moments that create lifelong adaptations to one’s overall well being.

I teared up at the music they played during Cornerstone’s evening virtual siyum. I was profoundly touched by the familiar beats of songs such as Roll Into Dark and Wagon Wheel. Emotions that I’d only ever experienced at camp were bubbling up inside me. Despite being physically alone in my bedroom, I could feel the presence of the songleader, the musicians, and the other hundreds of other fellows and staff. The sense of connection in this moment was so memorable that I found myself wanting to mimic this sweet feeling of camp for others.

At the end of Cornerstone, we were instructed to write a six-word intention. I wrote, “some things are worth waiting for.” Summer 2020 has been different, and although the sadness and pain about not being able to attend my favorite place this summer is still present, I know that summer 2021 at Capital Camps will be worth waiting for. And in the meantime, the Cornerstone conference prepared me to transform classic camp activities into a virtual medium, keep us connected in a difficult time, and help my camp community find comfort in discomfort.

Anna Levine participated in the 2020 Cornerstone Fellowship. She grew up at Capital Camps and Retreat Center as a camper and has been a counselor for the last two summers. She is currently a sophomore at Syracuse University studying Psychology and Public Health. Outside of the classroom, she has enjoyed having leadership roles and volunteering with Hillel, OttoTHON, and a member of the Dean’s Team.

To learn more about the Cornerstone Seminar, visit www.jewishcamp.org/cornerstone.