Providing a Formative Jewish Camp Experience with Lisa David

Lisa David. Photo Courtesy.

Lisa David has been attached to Camp Harlam, a regional camp located in Kunkletown, Pa., since she first went in 1988. The camp attracts a large number of campers and staff from the DMV region, including approximately 170 campers and 30 staff members from our area last summer. David, who received her undergraduate degree from University of Maryland, became the camp’s associate director in 2014 before becoming the sixth director in camp history in 2017, where she works to provide valuable Jewish experiences to Jewish youth.

What are some of your responsibilities as director at Camp Harlam?

I am responsible for ensuring that Harlam is here for this generation and generations to come. Practically speaking, that means supervising our professional staff team and looking at institutional advancement, including fund development and lay and professional leader development. As an executive director in the URJ Camps system, I also supervise the director of one of our other camps – Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, one of our camps in Wisconsin. And then I actually spend a portion of my time also looking at recruitment strategy across all of our camps. There’s 14 of our camps, and I develop and implement our pipeline strategy to get more kids to all of our camps.

Can you tell me about your connection to the camp that stretches back to 1988 and what made you want to come back and work for the camp?

I was a camper at Camp Harlam. I became a staff member and supervisor and then once I entered the professional world of the Jewish community, I worked in the field for a few years before returning to Harlam about 10 years ago on the professional staff. And now I work in a professional capacity as executive director, and I’m also the parent of three Harlam campers. My husband also grew up at Camp Harlam and we met as campers, got married many years after we met, but he’s an alum also, and he’s a rabbi in the Reform movement. So, we’re all very deeply connected to camp and to Harlam. Harlam is the place where I discovered who I am and who I want to be and it helped strengthen my confidence, my sense of Jewish identity, and gave me these lifelong friendships that have been there for me during some very difficult times. I really felt compelled to continue to do work that I believed in because I knew how deeply it impacted me.

What’s the personal importance of being able to give the next generation the same great experience you had when you went to camp?

Especially now, I would say between so many crises that our world is enduring and our kids are experiencing, I think camp is really needed now more than ever. It’s a safe place. It’s a place for kids to build their own sense of Jewish identity and pride, and I think it builds character in the very best way. We talk a lot about camp being a place where you can be the best version of yourself because it’s a safe place to take risks. There are challenges that can be navigated successfully. You try all kinds of new things and discover what you’re really good at and that can range from an activity like a sport to just being a good friend to someone. And it’s communal living – it’s immersive, communal living – so you’re living in Jewish life, and you have Jewish role models, Jewish friends and it’s a very affirming environment.

Given everything going on in the world right now, have there been any changes in how you and your team are preparing for camp this year?

I think that there are very real practical challenges and opportunities because of what’s happening, whether that’s events in Israel, or here on our college campuses related to antisemitism. What camp does is build community and build human relationships as the foundation of everything we do. And I think that in that way, we have this opportunity to lean on those relationships to have difficult conversations to help educate and to show compassion for one another. I don’t expect that every single person in our community is going to believe what I believe, but at least we can have a respectful dialogue, which is not necessarily what’s happening in other settings, unfortunately. My hope is that we’re able to have that respectful dialogue, we’re able to show compassion, and again, we’re instilling that sense of Jewish pride in in those that are a part of it.

Can you describe yourself outside of work?

This is a job that’s also a lifestyle and Judaism is core to who I am. So, I live that professionally and personally. I think outside of camp, I’m someone that cares most about relationships, so I enjoy spending time with my family and with my friends and in our community. I like being outdoors, which I have the advantage of being part of my summer routine every day, but I always make time every day to be outside. During the year that means just going for a walk. I love reading and I’m very curious. I’m always interested in challenging myself to learn new things.

How are you able to use your Jewish values while you do your job every day?

I have the privilege of helping create a values-based community. We’re living our values every moment in the way that we communicate, that we care for each other, how we relate to each other. At Harlam, we’ve identified seven core middot, character traits, that we are uniquely positioned to build at camp – things like seeking meaning, or putting others first, or thinking with your heart. Nearly everything that we do is with those character traits in mind and living those values. So, it feels like I can live with integrity because I can thrive in an intentional community and environment where we have lots of great Jewish role models, lots of ways to learn and live Jewishly and lots of activities that help reinforce those values.

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