Humans of Jewish Camp: Ben Portnoy - Foundation for Jewish Camp
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BEN PORTNOY

Ben is the Associate Director of Camp Tevya.

Why did you want to work for a Jewish camp?

I believe that experiential learning is the best way to develop a strong personal identity, Jewish identity, and lasting social, emotional, and practical life-skills. I can think of no better place to watch this play out for hundreds of campers and counselors each summer than at Camp Tevya. As a Jewish camp, Tevya is an immersive, social camp community and our staff team does an amazing job of building a safe environment that is supportive, inclusive, and empowering. There is something inherently unique and transformative about spending 2 months of each year in a Jewish environment surrounded by positive Jewish role models. At Tevya, there is no limit to the amount of growth that a person can experience, myself included. Every summer, I show up to camp with high expectations and, despite planning for 10 months, I never know what the summer will hold. What new connections will I make? What challenges will I overcome? What skills I will develop? This is the same excitement I had on my first day of camp in 1997; it has stayed with me ever since and it is what keeps me coming back for more.

What’s your favorite part of the summer, and why?

My favorite part of the summer is lunch on Opening Day. As a leadership team, we spend 10 months of the year meeting and planning to make the 2 months of each summer better than the last. During orientation, our support staff works hard to get camp physically ready and looking beautiful, and our counselors come together as a team, set up their departments, and prepare to provide our campers with a socially and emotionally safe summer filled with fun and growth. There’s a lot of preparation and anticipation building to Opening Day. The moment the last parent car leaves and the first platters of grilled cheese and french fries are served and our Dining Hall is bursting with spirit and excitement… it finally feels like camp, and it’s go time.

What camp activity makes you wish you were still a camper, and why?
Ben as a camper, circa 1998

The camp activity that makes me wish I was still a camper is hanging in the bunk on a rainy day. A typical day at Tevya is packed with activities from wake-up to lights out (with a Rest Hour in the bunks after lunch). A rainy day is no different – our goal is to maintain as normal a schedule as possible. However, we are very in touch with the “climate” of our campers and counselors, and sometimes a rainy day extended Rest Hour is just what everyone needs. As a camper, I coveted these moments. It was a chance to slow down and spend uninterrupted time as a whole bunk with all my bunkmates and counselors. Card games, rafter ball, stories from counselors, or just engaging in fun conversations facilitated by our counselors. It was such a valuable opportunity to bond as a bunk community in addition to the natural bonding that occurred during normal activities.

Who is the camp person you’ve spoken to most recently?

The camp person I have most recently spoken to is the same person I start and end my days with: my fiancée. My fiancée grew up at Tevya as well, though I am five years older. She knew of me when she was a camper (she even drew a heart around me in one of her old yearbooks!), but we first became friends when she returned to Tevya in 2014 as the Assistant Program Director. We started dating the following summer and have been by each other’s sides ever since. Our relationship means everything to me. She supports me and my professional goals and understands the unique rewards and challenges of a career in Jewish camping. As a teacher, she is able to work at Tevya during the summer. We have a natural ability to collaborate as peers, while also challenging each other to produce quality work within our distinct camp roles. Camp is one of the few jobs in which you live with the people you work with for two months of the year. I am extremely lucky and grateful that I get to live and work with my best friend all year long. Our wedding is this month.