Camp staff 12.17.19

Learning, Community, and Connection: A Day Camp Director’s Experience at Leaders Assembly

By Edana Appel, Director of Camp and Family Programs at Westside JCC


Jewish summer camps pride ourselves on our ability to build community and create powerful immersive experiences.  Regardless of whether you run a day camp or overnight camp, how long your campers stay and how little you sleep, you know what it means to create community. We thrive in the times when our lives are ruled by morning circle, bus routes, walkie talkies and rainy day plans. 

At the same time, any Jewish camp professional knows that the further up the ladder you go, the more lonely your time at camp can feel. We spend so much of our time building community for others, but often our supervisory and leadership roles require us to also be somewhat apart from our community. 

Especially as a Director of a small day camp out on the West Coast, I can often feel like I am working everyday to make this amazing world for my campers and staff and don’t always have time to be immersed in a similarly amazing world myself. Don’t get me wrong — I love my JCC and the full time staff! But there’s an understanding that JCamp is my baby, my responsibility, and my community to build. Here I am, in the middle of one of the largest Jewish communities in the country, and yet I am the Mayor of Whoville, yelling at the top of my lungs and maybe, just maybe Horton or someone will hear me and join me.

Attending a conference like Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Leaders Assembly gives me not only a chance for my voice to be heard; it is a chance for my voice to join a chorus of voices.  Leaders Assembly is an opportunity for camp professionals to participate in the community that we spend so much time building for others. 

I have been fortunate to attend Leaders Assembly many times, but 2018 was my first time participating as a Day Camp Director.  I came into this position after many years in the overnight camping world, and I had been struggling to feel a sense of belonging and connection during this time of transition. Sitting in a room filled with Day Camp Directors in the job track session was the first time I experienced a large number of people who could truly understand my job and the unique challenges that come with Day Camp.  As the discussion continued, I found myself connecting with others around the room. When I shared a major concern I had at camp, others immediately offered help. The opportunity to build community and connection, especially as I embarked on a new part of my career, was truly wonderful.

As camp professionals, we work so hard. We deserve to treat ourselves to learning, laughter,  and the joy that can only come from spending time with a community of others who can truly understand our unique experiences.

Leaders Assembly renews my energy to know that I belong to this massive community of people who love what I love and do what I do.  There are not too many reasons that anyone would leave Southern California for the frigid East Coast in March, but Leaders Assembly is more than worth it. I will be in Baltimore in March 2020, to make sure my voice is in the chorus, my energy in the community, and my heart full before another amazing summer.


Edana Appel is the Director of Camp and Family Programs at Westside JCC.  She is a proud alumnus of Brandeis University, the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, JCCA Graduate Scholarship Program, Merrin Teen Professional Fellowship and more.  She loves learning, professional development, baking and taking Plyojam classes.  

To learn more about Leaders Assembly 2020 (March 15-17 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront) and sign up to attend, visit