Camp and COVID-19 05.11.20

“Here Comes the Sun”: Reflecting on Camp Closures

By Ella Cooperman, Foundation for Jewish Camp Operations Fellow

These past several weeks have been difficult, to say the least. We have all experienced fear, loss, and uncertainty like  never before. We are all mourning losses, whether those are loss of structure, loss of a trip, loss of social interaction, loss of a sense of security, or human loss — they are all significant losses. For me, the last thing I was holding onto was camp this summer. When everything first started to tumble my first thought was, “Will things be okay by camp?”. 

Though my own camp, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, has not yet made its decision, as a camp person and a Foundation for Jewish Camp staff member, I feel the pain of all the other camps that have already made their own decisions. At this point, to me, camp represented the last little beacon of hope in this whole Coronavirus thing. And even though I have known in my heart for some time now that there won’t be, and there shouldn’t be camp this summer, the news last week that so many camps officially cancelled absolutely broke me. All of the beautiful video and email communications broke my heart. The most painful one of all was hearing Geoff Menkowitz from Ramah Darom describe that special hug between friends who greet each other for the first time on the first day of camp, and saying that we won’t get to have those hugs this year. 

I turned to Judaism to find something to console me and all of you, as we try to recover from not just the loss of camp but of all the losses we are experiencing. I remembered that this month on the Hebrew calendar, called Iyar, is referred to in Kabbalah, or Jewish Mysticism, as the “month of healing”. It is believed that the acronym of the Hebrew word Iyar can stand for “Ani Hashem Rofecha”, which means I am God, Your Healer. Iyar is also a time when we count the Omer, the period of seven weeks between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. This got me thinking a lot about the kind of healing we can be doing, and the kind of counting we should be doing.   

My dad is a doctor who has been treating COVID patients. He is a real healer, and unfortunately none of us ordinary folks can do the kind of healing that he does every day. However, that does not mean that we are unable to heal at all. My dad recently told me that every time a COVID patient is released from the hospital, “Here Comes the Sun” plays over the PA system throughout the hospital. When he told me that, I started to tear up. No matter how stressful each day must be in my dad’s hospital, they still take the time to acknowledge each recovered patient by stopping to hear “Here Comes the Sun” and to remember the good. I realized that this, too, is part of healing. 

At this time of year, we are often beginning to count down to camp as the numbers become increasingly smaller and camp creeps closer and closer. Now, instead we are counting the number of camps that have cancelled, counting the number of One Happy Campers lost, the number of Yedid Nefesh professionals furloughed, and the deficits that camps are about to enter. 

In addition to counting the Omer, I want to challenge us to some other kinds of healthy counting. We count the Omer each day, and much like how my dad’s hospital plays “Here Comes the Sun” each time a COVID patient is released, I would like us to count something special each day. That also means making sure that you have something special to count every day.  This could be counting something to be grateful for daily, counting self care time, or counting a cookie every day- whatever will bring you joy and help you to heal a little bit every day. 

This past weekend I was talking to a good friend of mine from camp, and I was telling him that I couldn’t believe I was so sad about camps cancelling even though I completely expected it, and would have been surprised if they did not cancel. My friend said to me, “Well, everyone always cries on the last night of camp and we all see that one coming a mile away.” This really resonated with me. We may be becoming more and more used to experiencing all kinds of loss, but that does not mean it is any less sad each time. 

Since we can’t do anything to prevent these losses, the best we can do is try to heal each other at the same time. I hope that you find that thing that brings you joy, and therefore brings healing, or refuah. I hope that everyone makes sure to acknowledge their own “Here Comes the Sun” moment each day, and from that we may begin to heal just a little bit. 

Ella Cooperman is the Operations Fellow at Foundation for Jewish Camp. She grew up as a camper and then a counselor at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, where she is now a Rosh Edah (Unit Head). Ella graduated from the Joint Program between Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) where she studied history and bible respectively. Outside the classroom, Ella spent her time in college creating intentional and vibrant Jewish communities on campus (sort of like camp) through various leadership roles with Hillel, student council, and some work with the National Ramah Commission.