Part of the beauty of Camp Dora Golding’s learning program is that many of the prizes are sponsored by alumni: former campers and staff members. They have wonderfully fond memories of summers spent in camp years ago, and they want to give current campers the opportunity to have the same experience.
Camp also has a wonderful alumni association, spearheaded by Rav Avrumi Mostofsky, maintaining a connection with, literally, generations of former campers of Camp Dora Golding. Many of those alumni are today grandparents and even great-grandparents.
Every Friday during the camp season, a sign is posted in the back of the camp shul, listing the names of the camp alumni or friends who sponsored that week’s voluntary learning in the shul. (There’s a half-hour of voluntary learning before Kabbalas Shabbos and three hours of voluntary learning on Shabbos afternoon. Well over 80 percent of the campers, hundreds of campers, attend. So, it’s no small z’chus.) I often recognize some of the names of the donors, whom I remember from camp a few summers ago.
One Friday, a few weeks ago, I saw that the learning was being sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Allen Komet. The name rang a bell. I remembered that Alan Komet was the name of my counselor in Camp Dora Golding during the summer of 1991. Alan was a great counselor, and I was very fond of him. He lived in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, a half hour from Monsey. I also remembered that a few weeks after the summer, Alan came to my home and picked me up, along with another camper, and we went out to eat at Deli-N-More, a fast-food restaurant in Monsey at the time.
I asked Avrumy to please contact Mr. Komet to find out if he was my former counselor. Avrumy inquired and replied that indeed he was. We have since reconnected through the magic of WhatsApp. It’s amazing that even now, over 30 years later, my memories of my counselor from over 30 years ago, are warm and fresh in my mind.
I should add that my father was a counselor and division head at Camp Magen Av. Over the years, different people have commented to me that my father left a tremendous impression on them and had a lasting positive impact on their lives from their summers spent at Camp Magen Av.
For a number of years, Camp Dora Golding was graced with the presence of Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman. After being the division head of the oldest divisions for a few years, Rabbi Finkelman was the mashgiach of Camp. Basically, he would inspire everyone through his speeches and personal conversations, as well as through his sterling example.
Rabbi Finkelman would relate to us that when he was a counselor in Camp Torah Vodaath, his head counselor, Rabbi Nosson Sherman, quipped that his job was to act meshuga (loosely translated as lively and excitedly) for 21 hours of the day so that his campers will learn during the three hours (of learning groups).
Rabbi Finkelman also related that one year, prior to the summer, he brought his staff to the Skulener Rebbe, the Chesed L’Avrohom. The Rebbe told the counselors that they have to recognize the incredible influence they can have on their campers. Many children cannot relate to a rebbe in yeshivah because they feel the rebbe is out of their league and is too holy and spiritual. But a counselor who is more relatable to them yet acts as a ben Torah and is careful to attend minyanim, davens like a mentch, and has fine midos, can leave a far greater and more lasting impression on their campers.
Rabbi Finkelman would add that the same is true for every staff position in camp. There are always campers who dream of being a lifeguard, maintenance director, waiter, or night activity director. One never knows who is looking up to him. When a camper sees that the staff member who holds the position that he aspires for conducts himself as a ben Torah, it will leave an indelible impression on him.
Rabbi Finkelman also related that when he was 19 years old, he wanted to be a learning rebbe in camp, like most of his friends. But his rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, told him that he had to be a counselor. Rabbi Finkelman reasoned that being a rebbe would afford him more time for personal learning and growth. But Rabbi Wolfson replied that campers look up to someone who can write songs and act in plays, like Rabbi Finkelman could. Rabbi Wolfson explained that we want campers to look up to proper role models, who can show them a good time and yet be proud b’nei Torah.
Another aspect of the greatness of camp is that it affords campers and staff members the opportunity to shine in ways they cannot shine in school. They may have dormant talents that they were never able to tap into, including acting and drama, crafts, painting, etc. Someone who feels largely unsuccessful throughout the year can shine in camp. That’s part of the reason why there are so many tears on the final day of camp.
For the last two summers, I have had the pleasure of working alongside a former camper of mine, Rabbi Danny Konigsberg. Rabbi Konigsberg, our assistant head counselor, was my camper for two summers in Camp Dora Golding. He often unabashedly tells the campers how much camp impacted his life, as well.
Anyone who hasn’t experienced camp will have a hard time relating to its magic, greatness, and importance. I am very much aware of how much camp, and the great people there, have impacted my life on so many levels.
Now, as we prepare to return to the “real world,” as another wonderful camp season draws to a close, it’s gratifying to think how many lives were positively impacted over the last two months. Of course, everyone comes to camp to have fun. But the secret is, that during that fun, without realizing it, there are permanent positive changes and inspirations taking place that will last a lifetime.
If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who attended camp, even decades ago. I’m willing to bet they can still sing the alma mater from the end of color war. Chances are, they already began humming it.