It is no exaggeration to say that my summers and camp experiences have had a tremendous impact on who I am. Some of my foremost rebbeim I only know from my summer camps. During a confusing time during late adolescence, when I was trying to find the right yeshivah for myself, my camp friendships were a source of great encouragement for me. But above all, being a counselor taught me a great deal about responsibility. Having to deal with the vagaries and annoyances of a dozen kids helps give a teenager perspective and appreciation for the challenges of parenthood.
My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quips that G-d pays back all children by making them parents. As children grow up, they often feel they have all the solutions for proper chinuch to not make the same mistakes their parents did with their upbringing. Then, when the children become parents, they start to understand their parents more. Being a counselor gives the future parent a head-start on that experience.
When I was a division head in camp, I would often laugh to myself when a frustrated counselor would vent to me about how his campers don’t listen to a word he says. I wonder how often his parents say the same thing about him.
Beyond parenthood, however, success in life requires taking responsibility. Great things are accomplished by those who can shoulder burdens and are able to deal with adversity. That is the hallmark of leadership, as well.
Being a counselor forces a teenager to become a leader in his own bunk with campers that look to him for guidance and to create order.
Many great leaders in our community, including notable roshei yeshivah, were legendary personalities in their respective summer camps decades ago. Some were also known for uncanny acting abilities or other talents uniquely endemic to camp.
I know that my life has been incredibly impacted and influenced by my experiences in camp as a counselor.
Every parent who sends a child to camp wants the child to have a fantastic counselor. Not only can a good counselor make a difference in how a camper’s summer goes, but he can also potentially have a significant impact on a camper for the rest of his life.
I have met individuals older than I am who related to me that my father was their counselor in “Camp Magen Av” many years ago, and that he made a lasting impression on them. One fellow told me that as a child he was inhibited and shy. When my father was his counselor, my father helped draw him out of his shell. The man, who is today a grandfather, told me that much of who he has become is thanks to that life-altering summer when he was a camper in my father’s bunk.
Not only did I have counselors who made a profound impression upon me, as a counselor myself I developed wonderful friendships with my own campers, many of whom I am still in touch with now, years later.
In recent years, however, it seems to be becoming increasingly harder for camps to find solid counselors. Many older teens are simply not interested in becoming a counselor. There is an increasing trend for bachurim to go on cross-country road trips for a few weeks during the summer break. The prevailing feeling is why should I work so hard at a 24/7 job with whiny campers, when I could “chill” during the summer with my “boyz” and enjoy my earned vacation more?
In my opinion, this is a sad and costly mistake. The young men/women themselves are losing out on an admittedly arduous, but highly enriching experience that will help them prepare for marriage and parenthood. It will also force them to be responsible and disciplined, traits that are vital for all components of life, especially growth in Torah and midos.
In addition, our youth are losing out by not having more quality counselors who are b’nei Torah and b’nei aliyah. A counselor can often impact his campers in a way that parents and rebbeim are unable to. A camper may have an easier time relating to his counselor and strive to emulate him.
There is no doubt that there are more relaxing ways that someone can spend his summer doing other than being a counselor. But no one said accomplishing great things would be easy.