This week's blog is from Mads, LAJF's Alumni Relations Coordinator. In his own words he writes about the World Reunion along with Camp Rising Sun's values, ideals, and what it means to be a camper for life.
About three weeks ago I participated in my first-ever Camp Rising Sun World Reunion. I spent an extended weekend with about 60 other alumni, and for a short period of time relived the experience of my own summer at Camp.
I thank the Alumni Association of Israel for giving me the opportunity to remember the significance of being a member of the CRS community, and for organizing and hosting the 2018 World Reunion.
One need not spend much time with a group of Camp Rising Sun alumni before realizing that the CRS community is a special one. At a glance, there is not much that identifies what exactly our alumni have in common; we are spread across ages, nationality, profession, interest - even language. If you ask us, some may even directly state that they have never met before - and yet, there is an undeniable cohesion whenever CRS alumni meet up.
It is an extraordinary thing that, in a sense, the only denominator for our community is having attended the same summer-camp, and even at different times. But to think of what we share as having only attended a summer-camp is mistaken. What we share is an appreciation of a shared set of ideas and ideals.
The declared goals of our Foundation, in paraphrasing, are to foster an appreciation of diversity across multiple facets of human nature; To expand horizons, intellectually and artistically; To develop, and practice, ethical leadership, and To instill a strong philosophy of giving - based on an understanding of the value and necessity of societal service.
Now sharing a set of ideas or ideals is not guaranteed to make a community. Though we may have much in common, we also have much that can set us apart. Therefore, having a mission statement must, in order to transcend being merely a statement, be complimented by a strong commitment, to willing into existence the consequences and values contained within it. That is to say, that appreciating diversity does not by magic create equality, nor does seeing and expressing the value of societal service and philanthropy guarantee societal justice. As our purpose at Camp is to light a small fire within each of our campers, so our goals when we leave Camp must be to spread that light to the rest of the world; at Camp we merely foster an adherence to our ideals within our campers, and so our true success is dependent on our alumni implementing those ideals in the world.
When attending the CRS World Reunion I was reminded of this important aspect of what we do at Camp - and of the tremendous impact that meeting up with other alumni can have. I met many alumni, some that I had never met before, who live by the ideals and values that Camp taught them 5, 15, 30 years or longer ago. I met people whose inner fire burns strong, and for a brief period of time, I was given part of that heat and enjoyed the contagiousness of their motivation.
But I was also reminded of the grave realities of the challenges that we, in our community, face, and that that goals and statements must be accompanied by plans and implementations - that insisting on viewing each other as equals does not automatically bring about equality.
Leading up to the World Reunion there were heated discussions within our community regarding the location for the event. A critique, of hosting a community event in a region unaccessible for members of our community was expressed, and the philosophy of bringing people together and bridging conflict by conversation, seemed to encounter outer constraints, beyond the control of our community. Insisting on the equal status of each within our community seemed problematized by the realities of the unequal opportunity and possibilities in the world experienced by members of our community.
I believe that sometimes, the strong cohesion that we feel with one another can create an illusion of an isolation, which in turn can be the cause of overlooking challenges and pressures from the outside world. In a sense, there is a sort of other-wordly naiveness in the universalism expressed in our goals. I find it important to note that to insist on appreciating our differences and building bridges to gap whatever conflicts we may experience is a uniquely privileged position - one that not all in our community enjoys. Whether we want it or not, there are challenges and factors of the world that influence the interactions we experience within our community. There are strong powers in the world that seeks to convince us that our cause is a futile one. But we must not believe them.
I was reminded of this on the Sunday of the reunion, when a small group of alumni travelled to East Jerusalem to meet with the first Palestinian CRS Alumnus, Amer Quasi (‘96). Due to the political realities of the world, he had been unable to attend in the festivities that had taken place in the days prior, but yet, he wished to meet with CRS alumni and reconnect. He told us of the challenges that he faces in his life. Of the harshness of living within a system that refuses to recognize him and his struggle - of those realities of his existence, that are in so many ways opposite the ideals that we promote at CRS. And yet, he spoke of a resilience, that having part in those ideals have given him throughout his life. Though he does not enjoy the privilege of experiencing his difference from the majority, as something that is celebrated - nor the privilege of being able to freely build bridges across conflict, he expressed a strong insistence on seeing commonalities, and on forgiving those who commit mistakes.
I was nothing but humbled by our meeting. The sheer strength and resilience expressed by his dedication to the betterment of this world was awe-inspiring. Though it seems a mischaracterization to attribute solely to Camp Rising Sun, the extraordinary character it takes to live according to values of acceptance, inclusion and forgiveness, when simultaneously faced with such strong powers of oppression, Amer, without hesitation, held the experience he had at Camp Rising Sun at the forefront of inspirations in his life.
Participating in the World Reunion and meeting alumni from all around the world and from different decades, who all felt a sense of ownership - of belonging - in the values of Camp was a magnificent experience that I will not soon forget.
For me, the lesson that stands above all is that although it may be up to each of us to interpret the values of CRS in our everyday lives, there is a strong unity in having as guiding principles such values. Though our interpretation of our declared goals may differ, our acceptance of that fact is what turns that unity into a community - with all the conflict and challenges a community contains.
But sharing in those ideas - identifying with the goals of Camp in our own lives, is just half the battle. For the ideas and goals to be more than that, mere ideas and goals, there must be a commitment to live by them - to not let Camp be an experience one had once or twice, but to let Camp be a part of our everyday, always. A commitment to being a camper for life, and to let CRS begin, when Camp ends.