By Marcy Cameron, Mother of Ethan
This article was written in early 2014 to share our family experience and help other families at Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) learn about the Camp Newman experience.
Before Camp – June 6, 2013
Our 7th grade son, Ethan, did not want to go to sleep-away camp, but after years of hearing Rabbi Paul Kipnes praise the value of URJ Camp Newman, my husband Clark and I were determined to send him anyway. Ethan’s “comfort zone” is home. New adventures tend to create anxiety for him. Even though he prefers going to school, hanging with friends and attending day camp, we felt that going to Jewish overnight summer camp would be an experience he would benefit from.
So we signed him up, covertly, for the first session, knowing our Rabbi’s family and many other kids from Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) would be attending during the same session.
Ethan was NOT happy about this decision. Rabbi Paul met Ethan beforehand for a pep talk; Or Ami teacher and former Camp Rosh Eidah (unit head) Jonathan Rothstein-Fisch sent him an encouraging text message.
Ethan was still NOT happy! I started collecting necessary items, I signed up for BunkNotes, and I even sent a care package the day before he left. Finally Ethan became resigned to the fact that camp was happening. He did not participate in packing and was quite sullen on the drive to the airport.
To help ease some of Ethan’s anxiety, I decided to fly up to Oakland Airport with him to meet the camp bus. There were probably 30 kids on the flight (and a few parents). The camp’s adult chaperone was friendly and answered some questions Ethan had about the flight home. Thankfully, Ethan spent the flight chatting with congregant and friend Lisa Friedman – a seasoned Newman camper!
The camp staff greeted the group at Oakland airport and everything was very organized. As Ethan was called into a group to load the bus, it was time for me to say goodbye! Of course hugs and kisses were exchanged much earlier – in private; after all, he was a 13-year old boy! So I gave him a “thumbs up” and off he went. I left for a lunch date in the city and enjoyed big glass of wine!
A few hours later Rabbi Paul texted a photo of Ethan at camp. I’m sure the smile on Ethan’s face was coerced for the camera, but I have no doubt that sending him to Camp Newman was the right decision. It’s just 13 days of his life! I have no worries about how he his doing up there. I know that even if he is having the time of his life, he won’t want to admit it, but I will know anyway! After all, I am his #1 fan – I’m his mom!
After Camp – July 11, 2013
I remember that the envelope from Ethan came on Day 11! Two pieces of paper from a small note pad I had sent in a care package. A few brief scribbles about the rain, a pool party, wearing white on Shabbat, and the Dan Nichols concert. Ethan said the food was good and he did the ropes course! I don’t think I have ever smiled wider!
Ethan does not speak effusively about anything – not even his first love, baseball. But when he came home from Camp Newman on Sunday, he didn’t stop talking. From the time we picked him up at the airport until he went to bed, he told us every detail about camp! He took close to 300 pictures. So we set the computer up to watch through the TV and Ethan narrated each and every photo!
Of course, Ethan is Ethan. When friends and family ask him about camp, he gets that coy smile on his face and tells them “it was good.”
Did camp change him??? Well, he’s still Ethan. 14 years old, stubborn, and still picky about food, but he seems to have developed a quiet confidence. His older sister, Jessa, has noticed the newfound confidence at the day camp they both attend. Now, Ethan is trying new activities and is well liked by his counselors.
I’ve read so many parenting articles about letting your children be who they are and I had so many friends ask how I could send him to camp when he didn’t want to go. Well, I can now say with no hesitation… Best Decision I Ever Made! Going to Camp Newman gave Ethan the opportunity to get out of his “comfort zone.” And he succeeded. He did it! That knowledge is now within him and cannot be denied.
Will he go next year??? Well, typical for Ethan, he won’t commit yet but I think there’s a good chance that he will want to go back. I’m starting a Camp Fund jar!!!
Looking Ahead – January 2, 2014
Ethan has made the decision on his own to return to Camp Newman. He had fun and looks forward to the experience again. What a joy. What a gift. I cannot wait to see how he grows up next summer.
Ethan is now 21 and has spent the last seven summers at Porter Creek/Cal Maritime. He has climbed the ranks from camper to CIT to Counselor (Staff). This would have been his 8th year at Camp Newman. It was a heartbreaking summer and we look, with hope, toward the future.
Thank you Camp Newman – your counselors, your Rosh Eidah, your directors – for helping my son Ethan have an away-from-home success. Thank you Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Rabbi Julia Weisz, for encouraging me to send Ethan, and for holding our hands – mine too – through the initial anxiety and challenge. Best Decision I Ever Made.