Where Magic Happens: Reflections on 13 Years of Summer Camp
At Camp Pembroke, the Bat Mitzvah tradition (for those who have spent 13 summers at Camp Pembroke) signifies the 13 year commitment to camp, to the campers, and to the role that Pembroke has played in their development into the women they have become. It accentuates that commitment and acknowledges the connection that these women have to this special place; it underlines the importance of the sisterhood here. Lauren’s speech, below, is a powerful and truly heartfelt reference to all of this, in the words of this young woman who truly appreciates the meaning and importance of camp in her life.
This is the speech that Lauren gave on the occasion of her Camp Pembroke Bat Mitzvah in 2016 to her Pembroke community.
This week’s Torah portion explores how to settle in a land you’ve never been to. When I first read through the translation, I thought that there couldn’t be a less fitting section of the torah for me to read today. But after further reflection, maybe this is the most important thing to remember as I celebrate thirteen years at the same camp. How do you make a home in a place that has existed for so long before you? How do you create a unique space in a land that seemingly already has its own traditions and ways of life?
For many of us, these are concerns that we bring to our first summer here. But after thirteen years, I suppose the magic of this place is that it both begs you to stay the same while also pushing you to change. When I was in middle school, I felt like things were constantly changing in my life, and camp filled a space of consistency and stability. As I grew older, though, I realized that although I thought camp was the place that would allow me to stay the same, it was also the place that would teach me how to grow.
It’s hard to describe thirteen years of growth in a four minute speech. Which is okay, because I think that my bat mitzvah isn’t really about me. It’s about this place and the people who make it worth returning to year after year. So for that, this should really be a thank you.
Thank you to my campers. To Bunks 6 and 10, my first campers who made me laugh harder and sleep less than I ever thought was possible. Back in ’09 I promised myself that I wouldn’t leave camp until you all returned from the Dor L’ Dor Teen Leadership Program, because I so desperately wanted to see the amazing leaders that you would become and the ways in which you would make this place work to be its best in the same way you make me work to be my best. You have exceeded any hope that I could have had for you.
And to every camper who has ever loved it here — thank you, too. Because even if you don’t realize it, you are the reason that your counselors will come back. You will be part of the reason that they grow into the people they will soon become. That’s a big role to take on as a camper, and without noticing, you do it with grace. And someday, you too may find yourself up here trying to explain how this is one of the only places left in the world where magic happens.
And believe me, it does. One of the most important things I’ve learned at camp is that magic doesn’t always happen in the big, fireworks and rainbows kind of way. It hides in the small details. In the way the purples and blues meld over the lake as you walk to services on Friday nights. In the not-fully-melted grilled cheese on Mondays. In the sound of the dining hall singing “Breakaway” during lunch. In the Golden Hour just before sunset when the lake seems to sparkle and the waves lap against the dock. In finding a counselors signature in your bunk and remembering that you are part of something bigger than yourself here.
And that, going back to our Torah portion this week, is how you settle in a new land. You believe that it is magical. You look for irrevocable beauty in the small places, and once you find it, you realize that your place in it is much bigger than you thought. And maybe its not so much that camp itself is magical, but that we feel magical when we’re here. That is the greatest gift that any place can give. So here’s to thirteen summers down, and at least thirteen more to go.
Lauren Cohen Fisher is the Director of Outdoor Life. This is her 13th summer at Camp Pembroke.