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Excelling at the Unexpected: Camp Newman Staff Are Ready When “Stuff Happens”

Our children have been attending URJ Camp Newman Jewish summer camp in Santa Rosa, CA since they were born. First as faculty kids and more recently as camper in their own right.

At the end of this week, as I depart from camp for a few days of vacation, we will leave our older two children in the capable hands of their counselors and Camp Directors. Pondering this new reality – that the kids will be at camp without us – has led me to consider anew why I chose to send my children to Camp Newman. I realized that I used similar criteria when choosing a summer camp for my children as I do when hiring staff for the synagogue.

Hiring Synagogue Staff
Over the years, I have developed four criteria which have led me to hire some really incredible Jewish professionals to work at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. I try to evaluate a candidate based on whether they demonstrate a:

  • commitment to the vision/mission of the synagogue
  • compassion (Who wants to work with or for someone who isn’t compassionate in his/her relationships, work or play?)
  • creativity (I am always looking for people to advance the mission of our synagogue through means I have not yet thought about considered)

The fourth criteria is not as easily discerned. Sometimes I can tease it out from their responses to questions or in discussions with the candidate’s references. Sometimes I need to go with my gut. Usually, I find out pretty quickly if the person is up to the task. The fourth criteria is whether the candidate has:

  • the ability to handle difficult or unexpected situations when they arise

“Stuff happens.” Stuff always happens. You can try to plan and plan for every eventuality. But no amount of planning can ensure that the people on the ground are capable to carry out the plan when the “stuff hits the fan.” You only know that when the “stuff happens” and you can watch how people respond.

Choosing A Summer Camp
Similarly, if I am going to leave my three precious kinder (children) for a number of weeks at a summer camp, I want to ensure that the camp staff members:

  • Believe in the mission of Reform Movement Jewish summer camping
  • Treat my children with compassion and caring, even when they become tired, cranky or worse
  • Creatively deliver experiences to my children which will stretch them Jewishly, athletically, artistically, socially and emotionally.

I also want to be sure that the staff – from the veteran senior administrators through the greenest counselor – have:

  • The ability to handle the difficult or unexpected situations when they arise.

You see, camp is like a play. You write the script and rehearse, rehearse and plan. But once the curtain goes up (and the summer starts), you can only hope that the people you put in place have the ability to handle the stuff that happens.

Camp Newman Staff Excel at the Unexpected!
Having been a camp director for four summers in Malibu, I know that all camps face unanticipated eventualities. Here at Camp Newman, watching from up close during this past week and a half, I find myself continually more and more impressed with the ability of these staff members – especially the senior staff – to handle every eventuality. Counselors puts in long hours and longer days under the hot sun and in warm cabins. They nurture six to eight wonderful and kvetchy campers, moving them through activities. With the guidance of their incredible group of rashim (unit heads) – I am fortunate to work closely with two talented young rashim Amanda and Yoni – these counselors repeatedly rise to the occasion. Up close, I have watched them care for two homesick campers, both of whom are now thoroughly enjoying themselves. I have witnessed the compassion they displayed when one teen sprained her ankle and another younger one got stung by a bee.

Over the years I have seen this senior staff team deal with a multitude of significant issues: broken bones, mechanical or plumbing problems, challenging staffing issues, children with serious emotional challenges, and more. In each case, the senior staff – Camp Director Ruben Arquilevich and Senior Associate Camp Director Sam Roberts standing out among them – handle each “mini-crisis” with confidence and a calm demeanors.

Though Nothing Happened, I was Exceedingly Impressed
I remember some time ago watching Sam Roberts take charge of a potentially difficult situation. There he was: Under Ruben’s watchful eye, dispassionately evaluating the situation. Gathering his senior staff to invite their advice and then detailing a plan. Meeting with the faculty to inform us of the situation and prepare us for possible outcomes. He was clear, open, non-defensive, assured. He listened to our questions and updated his plan when new perspectives or information came to light. That summer I left the camp feeling comfortable and confident that camp was safe and that the camper’s safety was paramount. Of course, the beauty of the situationwas that nothing happened. The problem dissipated. But Sam, Ruben and their staff members were prepared just in case.

That’s Why I Send my Children to the URJ Camp Newman
Because this committed, compassionate, creative staff possesses the ability to handle the difficult or unexpected situations when they arise. Because “just in case,” they are prepared and professional. And because I know that my own kids are cared for as well as if I were in charge of them myself.

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