by Malcolm McElheney, CIT ’10, CIT Advisor ’13
While driving up the road to Camp to visit for this past weekend’s Alumni Shabbat, I felt a twinge of nervousness- something I had not felt going up that road since I was a first time camper twenty years ago. It felt ridiculous, but I was visiting Newman after not seeing it functioning and full of life since 2017. Upon arriving I felt, of course, the initial shock of seeing a completely different landscape of buildings and hills and BK bathrooms in places you’d never expect. Perhaps it was because, for the first time in twenty years, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. That shock subsided as familiar faces with matching visitor name tags appeared bit by bit before Shabbat began.
I was there alongside others to welcome in Shabbat with Camp Newman, and to celebrate alumni and generations of CITs who wanted to give back to a place that meant so much to them. Over the two days, I couldn’t help but notice all the things that were different and new. While some of them seemed totally foreign to me (I thought I’d never see more than one flavor of It’s It available), I could see so much kavanah – intention – went into those changes. And I could see how much more loving Camp is now. Alumni Shabbat coincided with Pride Shabbat, and never had I heard campers, staff, and leadership so committed to inclusion. It was heartwarming to discover that this strange land was simply the more developed and more thoughtful version of the place I knew for years.
The feeling of nervousness eventually faded. I was relearning that the space is “just details” when Camp is made up of much more. Even if the landscape is different, so much remains unchanged. Friday night shirah is still a party, Harry Chapin via Dan Nichols still makes me cry, Shomrim still refuses to be messed with, and CITs still understand that meaning comes from creating joy for others. In those moments where I felt most like a stranger, the campers and staff abided by that cornerstone obligation to welcome them. During Alumni Shabbat, I truly felt welcomed home, and for that I am grateful.
Malcolm J. McElheney is the Program Director for B’nai Mitzvah & Hebrew Studies at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles and an alum of the Schools of Education and Nonprofit Management at HUC-JIR. He was inspired to become a Jewish educator when he was a CIT in 2010.
Read more Around the Campfire >>