5. It’s not about what people think about you…It’s about how you make people feel about themselves when they are around you. Best way to engage and be engaged is by really being in the present, totally fascinated with the people and conversations that you are part of. As soon as you glance sideways, looking at who has just arrived, or checking an incoming text on your phone, you have lost the connection.
I had already ironed my suit, the early dinner menu planned, my “Talit” ready. It was last
year, at 3:00am on the day we wake up to get ready for Yom Kippur. My Day of Atonement started with an unexpected sharp, loud cry assuring the skies were open to hear my pain and plea for relief. My whole world suddenly collapsed, my body certainly did, and the pain was worst than any pain I could ever imagine. To make a long story short, and after days of what felt like torture, I found out that I had two severely herniated disks in my upper back, and that surgery was needed. I wondered, “Can this really be happening to me? who will take care of my family? how will the world keep
going with me in bed? “ – The answers to these questions were not clear, but eventually I learned a lesson. A year later, I didn’t just survive but I am deﬁnitely in a better place.
We were at the door steps of Yom Kippur, a time for introspection and there I was capable of doing just that, metaphorically and literally! Finding a meaning to whatever happens to us is a good practice, and for me that is what helped me make this experience a profound one, not just a painful one. It was a long month before I had my Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgery, followed by a few months of recovery. I was forced to learn much about myself and others. And here it goes:
We are vulnerable. I never took the time to think about it before. Being confronted with my own vulnerability was very powerful; scary at ﬁrst, and yet empowering and somehow beautiful when accepted. Vulnerability made me connect with what the core of life is all about and appreciate every day with a new lens, one that doesn’t take anything for granted and yet appreciates every feeling and experience with passion. Vulnerability made me become thankful -for the good and the challenging, but mainly for being able to deal with both.
Compassion is a practice. I always thought I was compassionate, and somehow I was, but now I know better. There are friends and family who “carried me through” my ordeal, they taught me what compassion in action is. The friend who didn’t just guess but instead asked me “what do you need?”; the one who massaged my numbed ﬁngers for hours; the one who asked me “what do you want for lunch today?”- almost every day; the one who sat next to me while I was sleeping so my husband
could do some work; the one who organized a four-week schedule of visits and meals for my family; the ones who called every day; the one who baked chalah every Friday; the many who would sent ﬂowers from around the world and from around the corner; the ones who came to visit; the ones who made sure I had everything I needed to be comfortable; the one who got me into all those TV series and kept me entertained; the many who cooked home made meals. I am eternally grateful for having them in my life, but also because they taught me all I need to learn about compassion, not because of
what they did, but because of how they did it.
There is a time for everything. “Can I stop everything in my life? what will happen with my clients? what will I miss for my kids? what if I can’t take my parents to an important doctor’s appointment? how can I miss being there with my husband during the High Holidays?”… bottom line, “will the world continue functioning without me?”. I had no choice but to let go and eventually ﬁnd out by myself. As you can imagine, the world kept going pretty smoothly. My clients are still there, my kids did well and actually gave me lots of care and love, my parents didn’t need a doctor but helped me heal, my husband was surrounded by the love of our community, and things didn’t stop or collapse because my body did. There is a time for healing and there is a time for all the rest. We have the permission to do what’s truly important for us some times.
Scars happen. At ﬁrst I didn’t even care about it, I just wanted to make sure I will be able to walk. Then I started to wonder, and my son told me “it is cool, it will be another story to tell”, and I liked the idea. After the surgery, my scar looked as if someone tried to decapitate me, but it was ok. Then, I hated it because it reminded me about the pain. Later I forgot about it, and everyone would tell me “I can’t even notice your scar”, and I would think “yes you can, but you’re sweet”. A few weeks ago, I walked into a store and a guy tells me, “you belong to my club”, then he showed me his own scar…I loved it! No more words were needed, we were brothers. We shared everything about our common
experiences, and spoke the same language. Since then, my scar is ofﬁcially noticeable, a story to share, and a reminder of vulnerability, compassion, friendships, love, belonging, introspection and strength.
We have no control. I knew it, but I didn’t, and some times I still forget. The bottom line is that I fear every situation where I’m not in control or command – such as roller coasters or airplanes. Going into the surgery, I had no control (thanks G-d) over what the surgeon would do, and the outcome of his work. The only thing I could control at times, was my fear and thoughts. And yes, I chose my surgeon. So, although we never have full control over absolutely anything in life, we can do our due diligence to get as close as we can to some peace of mind that we did our best. Peace of mind is my new goal, as opposed to control.
My husband is the best! I knew it the day I met him and I know it 27 years later. The way he was there for me, carrying me through, was a way that goes beyond anything I could imagine or describe. He gave me dignity and made me feel well with whatever was happening all along the way. What my husband taught me about him, myself and our relationship is a gift that can help rebuild any collapsed human being.
And the lessons go on and on. This Rosh Hashanah, I’m thankful to so many and for so much. Now the Day of Atonement is almost back, and I’m thanking G-d for the journey he took me through. This Yom Kippur I will stand tall, look deep inside, and I will know I have been strengthened by all the lessons I learned from the past year.I have my suit ironed, the early dinner menu planned, my “Tallit” ready, again. I also have a renewed wisdom to accept that I’m vulnerable and that’s part of being alive, that true compassion carry people through the most challenging times, that I can take time
off and the world will be just ﬁne, that control is an illusion and peace of mind is the way, that scars have their beauty, that community and friendships are a blessing, and that my family is a gem.
I wish all of you a meaningful Holiday, where you can look deep inside, ﬁnd the meaning to what’s important, think of the lessons learned and be open to keep learning, and be ready for new beginnings.
is considered very young. Imagine a 65 year-old country, with roughly 7.5 million people living in it. Imagine a country barely the size of New Jersey. Imagine a country with people arriving in massive immigration waves from the most diverse cultures you can think of, including roughly 150,000 from Ethiopia and 1.5 million from the former Soviet Union, all in recent years. Imagine a young, tiny country trying to welcome all faiths and yet protect its roots. Imagine that country, a true melting pot, living in a difficult neighborhood with many extremists trying to wipe it off the map. Imagine a country where every home is required to have a shelter and all citizens their own gas masks, all the time. Imagine a country where you are sitting in your room and the background noise is from a neighbor country, the border just 1.5 mile away, fighting a bloody civil war. Imagine a country where each and every 18 year-old kid is required to serve in the army for several years. Imagine a young and tiny country in the middle of the desert. Imagine that country fighting for its right to exist in peace, and yet trying to preserve its vibrant democracy.
|First Day of Camp|
But as it turned out, the hard part was even harder than I had anticipated.
Part of my job this summer was to help our Interim Camp Director have a successful summer. “No problem” I smirked, as I thought to myself, “I’ll spend the summer outside at camp, play and have fun! I can do that.” And that I did. But what I didn’t realize was how hard my last, last day of camp would be. The reason I got into the Jewish Communal field was to be a Camp Director so the idea of never being part of camp again was truly the end of an era. In my role as the Associate Executive Director of my JCC, I was never far from campers singing and cheering, and I could always take a break from what I was doing to go play outside. This was fate though — my last summer at the JCC — and I got to do what I got into this field to do one last time.
As my last week approached, I thought “what about this am I going to miss the most?” Here is my list:
10. Screaming “Boker Tov Camp!” to all of camp and, in unison, them screaming back “Boker Tov Donna!”
9. Watching a camper pass the deep water test on her last day of camp when she could barely swim on the first day of camp.
8. The amount of enthusiasm campers and counselors have for their team colors during the Maccabi Games.
7. Bringing Israelis to our camp and letting them show campers how amazing Israel is.
6. Watching a group of 11 year old boys not only accept but totally incorporate a boy with Down syndrome into their group.
5. Campers and counselors who will do anything to win the Ruach Stick for the week.
4. All of camp singing the Hatikvah
3. Watching scared campers cry on the first day of camp knowing that 8 weeks from now they will be crying on the last day of camp because they don’t want it to end!
2. Hiring counselors who were your campers since Preschool and them being the most amazing staff.
1. Friday afternoon at Shabbat watching the whole camp saying the prayers over candles, wine, and challah and singing Bim Bom.
On Monday morning of my last week of camp, I declared to everyone that I was going to enjoy every moment and fully embrace the last week of camp craziness. In years past, the last week has always been so hectic and I often said “I don’t have time to participate in (fill in the blank)”. But I was determined to make this year different as I knew there would not be another opportunity like this. Below is just a sampling of the fun that occurs at Camp JCC on the last week of camp.
|Campers pay to Pie the Counselors in the face. All proceeds go to our Camp Scholarship Fund.|
|We dig a Mud Pit for the Maccabi Games final relay|
|Shaving Cream Fight on the last day of camp: a Camp JCC tradition!|
I’m a true believer in fate — and this summer was fate. Ok, well maybe I should thank Jeremy, the previous camp director who moved to Memphis to be the Program Director (thanks Jeremy!) but either way I can’t imagine ending my 20 year career in the JCC field any other way.
Get your Board to give
Get your Board to ask
Get your Board to use the Three Magic Words
them”. Many of you followed up by asking me, how is that possible. That question triggered a conversation with my daughter, about “which one is really home?”.
- Recognize and identify the situation: time of transition. What kind of bridge it is? Where are you on this bridge?
- Re-connecting to your core essence. You are much more than the roles you have in your life.
- Understanding the natural process of transition and the kind of reaction that you have.
- Make an inventory – what has really changed in your life and what has stayed the same?
- Allow time to mourn. Even if the change is positive – you are leaving something behind.
- Try to enjoy this time of uncertainty. Dare to dream again about a new bright future. Stay open to new ideas and thoughts.
- Take care of yourself! What makes you calm and happy? – Do it!
- This is the time to rely on your support group (friends and family). You are always there for them…it is time for them to remind you how wonderful and capable a person you are!
- If the change gives you some free time – enjoy it.
- Don’t worry! Its going to be OK. Your body is feeling the stress, allow it to breathe deep and relax.
- Let your emotion be. The more you try to fight sadness and insecurity – the more power they will have over you. We all want to feel positive feelings, but there are other kinds too. Recognize your own feelings and don’t let them take you off track.
- Be brave – trust your core essence and god’s gifts
- Instead of saying “I used to be” or “I had” – say: “I hope to be” or “I plan to do”
- Even if feels that someone had turned off the lights…we always can turn them back on.
the chicken or the egg?”
|Jessica & Eden back in the day|
About a month ago I boarded a plane from Philly to Ft. Lauderdale excited to be going to a wedding of a close friend. Close is probably an understatement. See I met this beautiful young lady when she was five and I was 15. It was the summer before my sophomore year in high school and she was in my very first camp group at Camp Maccabee. I was a young Junior counselor and she was a nervous first time camper. I immediately connected with her and the entire group of 5 year old girls. I remember getting paid something like $300 for the entire summer but it didn’t matter, I was having a blast. One day at pick-up the camper’s mom asked if I babysat as they were new to the area and were looking for someone to watch their 2 & 5 year old on an occasional Saturday night. Since my summer wage of $1.35 an hour wasn’t cutting it, babysitting seemed like a good way to supplement my income. What happened next changed my life. I met the entire family and fell in love. This family of 4 became my adopted family. They treated me as if I was their 3rd daughter and I loved them for it. Fast forward a lot of years, I’m still really close with this family.
|All of us at Jessica’s Rehearsal Dinner|
As I reminisced with all of her friends at the wedding each one of them told me how many memories they have from those years at camp and they were surprised to hear how much I remembered as well.
As camp directors, we look at a variety of factors when matching counselors with groups: Personality, age, compatibility with co-counselor, etc. I’m sure Pattie, the camp director back then never thought “hey let’s put Donna with this group of 5 year old girls so that she can make a family friend for a lifetime.”
We always talk about all the reasons why children should go to camp but I think we should be talking about why teens should work at a camp also. There’s nothing like the friendships we make during the hot summer days. The bonding that happens while singing silly songs and covering yourself in paint to signify your loyalty to your color war team is unmatched by any other work experience. As camp directors it’s our job to teach young staff how to be a good employee. We teach them responsibility and work ethic. For so many young teens this is their first employment opportunity and the things we teach them will be with them for a lifetime. A teen who is willing to work very hard in the hot sun with campers hanging all over them while ensuring their safety will make a great employee in the future. You’re welcome big corporations of the world!
Most camps around the country are starting this week. Welcoming campers and getting ready to make memories of a lifetime. Take some time to get to know who is spending the next 8 weeks with your child, you never know if they’ll be part of your family for the next 20 years.