By Leah Namdar
Shlucha in Sweden and Director of camp https://www.tzeireihashluchim.com/
There’s a very important conversation on COLlive.com and I would like to thank the authors of the articles – the mother who wrote “Before You Single Out That Child…” and the response from the former staff member titled “Put Yourself in the Head Counselor’s Shoes.”
My perspective is drawn from both pairs of shoes:
First, from the shoes of a mother. My children have traveled to overseas summer camps and I know how a part of your heart goes to camp and stays there all the time. I know how a parent hopes and davens that their precious child will be happy, make good friends, learn and daven, and come home inspired and recharged.
Second, from the shoes of a camp director. Together with my husband, we have been running the Tzeirei Hashluchim overnight camps in Sweden. We have been blessed to work with some of the most incredible young people in Lubavitch. These staff members dedicate their summers – both days and nights and the months that lead up to it – to giving kids the time of their lives.
Speaking from both perspectives, I can safely say that a child’s experience and a staff member’s responsibility aren’t an ‘either-or’ matter as may have been understood from both articles. Caring and kindness for every single child and utmost respect towards staff members are no contradiction. We can and must have both. How is this possible?
As chassidim, we don’t have to live with question marks. We can learn literally everything from the Rebbe. The Rebbe truly taught us by example what Lubavitcher chinuch is. Here’s an example:
During Tishrei in the late 5740s, there was a rally for kids in the main shul downstairs in 770 Eastern Parkway. I was a madricha (counselor) along with others. We didn’t have any specific instructions, but we were excited to have the zchus to be downstairs as madrichos for a rally. The kids said pesukim, and then the Rebbe began speaking.
It was usually very quiet at the rallies, considering the huge number of children of all ages, with madrichim and madrichos responsible for groups of children. On that day, somehow, there was some noise while the Rebbe was saying the sicha and it was clearly disturbing.
The Rebbe did not rebuke the kids or even hush them. Instead, the Rebbe turned to the madrichim to make sure it would be quiet. That was a moment when the madrichim understood their role – ‘ah, that’s what we are supposed to be doing!’ And the kids were quiet.
At the end of the rally, the madrichim went up to the Rebbe to receive packages of dimes to distribute to the children. I remember as the line began for the madrichos, there was a moment of hesitation. With this new awareness of our responsibility, “being taken to task,” there was additional awe and no one wanted to go first.
A gap in the line suddenly appeared. Not wanting to keep the Rebbe waiting, I suddenly found myself standing in front of the Rebbe, hand outstretched, and will never forget the beautiful and radiant smile. We left the rally shining with joy and full of awe. The madrichim just became more aware of their job description. We felt more responsibility. The Rebbe empowered us, trusted us. We could do it!
The kids themselves felt like a million dollars. They called out Pesukim and thousands repeated their words. What a message for a child, to have that kind of impact! They sang with all their hearts, encouraged by the great conductor of souls, the Rebbe. The Rebbe had spoken to them, inspired them, uplifted them. Watched them with love and care as he spoke and as they sang.
And that’s what camp is for. To inspire, uplift and rejoice. To transform. This is what Lubavitcher chinuch is about: Inspiring, positive, Ahavas Yisroel. And yes, Seder, decorum and respect. Kids are not to be “controlled.” They are to be inspired.
The campers are kids, not malachim. The Rebbe describes in (another) sicha that because children are constantly growing, they have extra energy – to the point that it can tire their parents, teachers and counselors. It’s part of life and health. They are supposed to be energetic.
When a Head Counselor stands in front of 200+ children, he or she should not be thinking that it’s a single person’s task to keep the room quiet. Not at all. It’s not 1 vs. 200. There are counselors and learning teachers there for that purpose. The Rebbe showed during that farbrengen that it must be teamwork.
When the Rebbe spoke to the kids, there were responsible staff members in the room to make sure everyone was settled and attentive at just the right moments. Any time speeches or announcements need to be made, the counselors should be aware of their job description. To be there with their bunks, making sure that the kids are taken care of. And then, and only then, should the Head Counselor give the speech, which should be warm, welcoming, fun and inspiring.
You may ask, what about the kid that does make a ruckus while the Head Counselor is speaking? He may be talking, jumping around or c”v even fighting with another child. What happens then?
Permit me to share another experience with the Rebbe:
During another Tishrei at 770, thousands were standing together in their places, awaiting the Rebbe’s arrival for a farbrengen. With our view from upstairs, looking through the space under the glass, we could see the crowds gathering in place.
As everyone knows, getting a place in 770 was no simple matter. Downstairs, there were those who had a makom kavua (a set spot) while others had to come early to save their spots. Upstairs, in the Veiber Shul, we would come very early in the morning, hours before Shacharis, to save a place for the Farbrengen. The place was packed and no one minded! A Farbrengen with the Rebbe was an otherworldly experience.
Suddenly, right below us, we noticed a scuffle. There seemed to be some kind of a dispute over a place. A guest from France and a guest from Eretz Yisroel were arguing. (It must have been their first time in 770 since it was way out of line.) We watched in rising alarm as the scuffle escalated. In all my years in 770, this was the only time I actually saw a real physical fight.
And just then, the Rebbe entered, that long-awaited, electric moment of song and rejoicing. Peace seemed to be restored. We breathed a sigh of relief, and all was forgotten in those magical moments of the Rebbe’s presence. The Farbrengen began. The room was pin-drop silent and the Rebbe’s voice rang out low and clear.
Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. The fight picked up again in the middle of the sicha and in the stillness, we heard the tumult of pushing and a real gezetzte patch. We all froze. My face burned with shame that such a thing could happen in that holy moment.
The Rebbe stopped speaking. We could hardly breathe. My heart was beating so hard that I was afraid it could be heard in the utter and complete silence. The girl next to me gripped my shoulder hard. A ripple of fear went through the great room. Then, we all heard it. The Rebbe turned to the man who hit and said simply and clearly: “Kum aher-tzu” (come here).
It was a royal command, an invitation and a rebuke all at once. The throngs parted as the man made his way up towards the Rebbe. He now had the most coveted place in 770, right next to the Rebbe, where he remained for the entire farbrengen. The Rebbe then continued the sicha as if nothing had happened. Our hearts slowly resumed their normal beat and we were swept up in the beauty of the sichos, the majesty of the nigunim.
Before the next farbrengen, just before the Rebbe entered, the same man stood up by the long table near the Rebbe’s red chair and asked for silence. Then with great humility and courage, he asked mechila from the crowd. We had all witnessed a complete transformation. From aggression and flying fists to humility, compassion and courage.
Now, let’s stop and think for a moment. There are many things the Rebbe could have said. What would be the message with words like (chas vesholom): “You in the black hat, out of the Shul!”, “Gei arois! Out of the shul. Out of Lubavitch. Out of …. chas vesholom.” Instead, the Rebbe said: Kum aher-tzu. Come here.
The message is: You, who need that extra lesson, you stay by my side. Come closer. Come here. No one thought: how outrageous! He hits someone and gets extra kiruvim. Hayitochen?
The Rebbe showed us all: Davka the kid who is out of hand, even if he has crossed boundaries, HE needs the kum aher.
Sending someone out of class, out of the shul, has a message that is not part of Lubavitch chinuch. We don’t ever say ‘gei arois’. Our job is to say kum aher. In Lubavitch, we welcome, we invite, we embrace. Yemin mekareves – our yemin, our strong and dominant hands, our head counselors, counselors and teachers should draw them near.
So here’s the scenario this coming summer, with Hashem’s help:
A shul full of excited kids, geared up for the most amazing summer of their lives, each one of them with parents who have invested so much to bring them to this great moment. The counselors are sitting with their bunks. That kid who can’t sit still? He’s right next to his counselor, who’s keeping a friendly eye on him. And if he really can’t stay seated? The counselor will have him hand out snacks/ siddurim to the whole bunk. Or have him deliver an important note to another staff member.
The Head Counselor gets up to speak. His message is about how valued, cherished and important every camper is. And some rules. He is dynamic and smiling and joyous and the kids who still have butterflies in their stomachs since they gave that last hug to Mommy start to relax and think: This is gonna be amazing! Camp is fun.
The head counselors and staff in every camp must be chosen based on their capacity to care for every child, especially in a camp where we want to impart the message of Ahavas Yisroel, the foundation of Lubavitch. Ahavas Yisroel is not only something we learn from the seforim. It has to be embodied by real live people. And who can do that more than the amazing Head Staff and staff of our camps?
Camp is the cradle of chassidim. Oh, and you in the blue cap? Kum aher-tzu. We have a place for you.
P.S. This is written in gratitude to all our devoted staff who have joined our shlichus in Sweden in the past 30 years and for this upcoming summer and in honor of all the beloved campers of Tzeirei Hashluchim and Shluchos Sweden and their incredible parents.