Starting out as an associate lawyer practicing law in the real estate department of two major law firms, I was challenged in my role. I had always had the goal to go to law school and practice law, so there I was doing it.
Yet, I soon found myself feeling uninspired and curious about a feeling deep in my heart that was telling me that I might find greater fulfillment back at work in the Jewish community.
When the pandemic hit, and we were all stuck at home with no knowledge of when we’d ever be able to travel, go out, etc, I decided to take a leap of faith to apply for the very position I had outlined in my Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program application of my dream job in the Jewish professional world – directing a camp and specifically, Ramah Darom.
At the onset of the pandemic, my family left New York City to be with my and my husband’s parents in Florida. It was impossible to imagine sheltering in place in a small apartment with two very active young boys. While in Florida, enjoying a quieter pace of life, we realized that no matter how much we loved city life, we could be (and were!) happy living with more space and a backyard. And, so, when I saw an email that the Director of Camp Ramah Darom was leaving, I turned to my husband, and he said, “Well, you’ve got to go for it!”
Concurrently with the pandemic, I was fortunate to participate in the Wexner mentoring program, and I told my mentor I wanted to think about my next career move during our mentoring year. I had shared with her that initially I had wanted to be a Ramah director and now wasn’t sure how or when that could be next. She was instrumental in pushing me to re-think, and then when the job became available, she was very encouraging and supportive, as were those on the Wexner Foundation staff who reminded me that losing a few hours of sleep might be worth getting to do this work. Truer words have never been spoken!
The first summer as Camp Director is supposed to be the hardest. In fact, my advisors in the field told me it would take three summers to feel like the job was mine. When I was in the final stages of interviewing for this job, the director of the National Ramah Commission told me that no one knew what the summer would be like with COVID, and it was bound to be quite challenging. To which I quickly replied, “I’m not going to let a little pandemic get in the way of my dream job!”
In addition to spending the first few months of my new role getting to know the community and the tasks at hand (all remotely of course), I also immediately started learning about and working on COVID-19 protocols.
The first few weeks of the summer were extremely hard, and the emotions were tough. Navigating change is hard, and our changes weren’t insignificant. Changes because of COVID-19 included incorporating pods, masking, and not being able to leave camp. We did not have “senior counselors” with experience as we usually did in years past, and like all summer camps, we did not have the usual number of counselors hired. And, on top of that, I was change, stepping into the shoes of someone who had been there for 13 years, in many cases the only director the staff and campers had ever known.
While I constantly remind myself of what we learn from Marty Linsky – that change can only happen incrementally – in this case, I and COVID-19 were not exactly incremental changes! I was patient with myself and encouraged my staff to be patient with me and themselves, knowing that it was just going to take time to adapt and adjust.
And, by the second session, there was a relative sense of calm and increased confidence shared by all our young and adult staff in spite of all the upstart challenges. For me personally, by the end of the summer, I didn’t want to leave. The best part was, lucky for me, that I could say, I get to do it all over again!
The truth is, I know that I probably would not have applied had the pandemic not happened, and so I am grateful for this silver lining in the cloudy COVID-19 days. The forced change we all endured inspired me to listen to my heart and consider what change and impact I wanted to make in the Jewish world.
Eight months in, my family is thriving living in Atlanta. And with that: one month until Camp begins!
Photos provided by the author.