It’s no secret that our campers grow up to be real mensches. This year we decided to go straight to the source and talk to our alumni about how Camp Kinderland helped shape who they are today.
Laine Kaplan-Levenson, 31, Camper: 1997-2003, Staff 2004-2006
Radio Producer at WWNO, National Public Radio member station in New Orleans, and host/producer of the history podcast TriPod
There are countless favorites when it comes to activities and traditions we hold at camp, but one that has had a lasting impact on me is our commemoration of Hiroshima Day. This is a perfect example of how camp expanded my understanding of the world, and opened up alternative narratives of histories I never, or only partially learned in school. Dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was simply ‘the end of the war’ in history class, as something we almost definitely ‘needed to do’, despite the unfortunate consequences of our actions. There was no humility, no apology, no mourning, associated with this decision, and the horrors it produced. Kinderland’s commemoration of this anniversary is poignantly designed, and brings the appropriate tone to one of the most shameful acts America has committed. The whole camp wakes up early, before breakfast, puts on all-white, walks down to the lake in silence, where the poem ‘Hiroshima Child is read, and paper cranes are placed into the water. Then, the CITs sing ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’, and finally, everyone makes the walk from the lake to the dining hall, singing Phil Ochs’ ‘I Ain’t A Marching Anymore.’ I still sing that song every year on August 6th.
Camp taught me to care about people, about people I do, and don’t know. Camp taught me the importance of understanding difference, the value of history, the value of alternative history, and the necessity of storytelling as a means of survival. Camp taught me the practice of kindness, patience, and listening. Camp taught me to question what I’ve been told, and to boldly seek, and spread the truth. These are the principles that guide my work, and what I keep close with me as I move through the world.
I am now a radio producer, and work at the NPR station WWNO in New Orleans. I host and produce a history podcast called TriPod, a show that explores lost and neglected stories, and questions what people think/assume they know about the city’s history. I also run a live storytelling event called Bring Your Own, that partners with local organizations and movements to explore questions and themes most pertinent to the New Orleans community. Our events center themes like housing justice, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, and mental health. We record these stories, and air them on the public radio station.
I love what I do now, because it’s all about connecting with people, and offering platforms for their stories to be amplified. Broadcast radio is something I still strongly believe in, because of the fact that the listener can happen upon a story they weren’t particularly seeking out. In a world of on-demand media, individuals are curating their own content, and that’s what’s largely creating the information silos that bolster divisiveness, fake news, and remove empathy farther and farther away from our society’s ethical priorities. Radio still allows someone hear something they weren’t expecting, meet someone they wouldn’t ordinarily meet, and perhaps feel something they wouldn’t ordinarily feel. Maybe it’s romantic, but to me, that’s a magical experience, and one that lends itself to the potential for thought, growth, and change.
My work in radio has so much to do what camp instilled in me at a very young age! Camp changed my life, and I would not be the person I am today had my parents not sent me to that little plot of land in Tolland, MA. I’m still in touch with many people that I grew up with in those fields – we’re all so thankful that camp is alive and well, and will remain active in the mission to keep it that way for generations to come!
Una Osato, 36, Camper 1992-1998, Staff 1999-2002
Performer, Writer, and Educator. Co-founding member of the new burlesque super troupe, brASS: Brown RadicalAss Burlesque with her Michi Osato
I have really strong/clear memories of the Peace Olympics. I would look forward to them all summer. I loved competition despite the value camp was trying to instill in us with many games/activities ending in a “Kinderland Tie”. It was a smart move to redirect our competitive desires and have us compete for peace! I remember how good it would feel to lose my voice at the end of a Peace Olympics day because I’d been screaming my loudest all day long with the chants we’d created for our teams. I remember team chants against apartheid in South Africa while apartheid in South Africa was actually just ending. OMG the joy I felt chanting with others for our team, and our team being everywhere that people were fighting against apartheid. I felt connected to something so much larger then myself. Realizing that what we were doing and learning in camp was linked to the outside world felt so exciting and special, like we were learning a language that connected us to people and places throughout time and space. I also really loved singing and learning songs of our movements’ histories and singing them both at camp and outside of camp, sharing the spirit of solidarity and community I learned and loved so deeply at camp. I also really loved just lying down and cuddling with all my friends.
I’m a performing artist, writer and educator. I’m involved in social justice movements and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) NYC chapter and nationally part of the JVP Artist Council. I’m excited to continuously integrate arts and activism and find more ways they lift each other up. I still love making up chants and chanting and singing with others in the streets. I teach social activism to high school students and so much of what I learned at camp, about care and the belief in young peoples’ ability to enact change, is the bedrock of the work I try to create with my students. I’m inspired to keep fighting for and working to create a world where we all can be free, standing up against white supremacy, patriarchy, capital
Camp really impacted me and my value system. It deeply helped inform my sense of what it is to be Jewish person in this world and what is it to just to be a person in this world, which I’d sum up to say is: to be in this world is to love and fight for social justice and each other. From camp I learned about internationalism and from an early age was dreaming, as our ancestors did, of a world without borders. I celebrate histories of Jewish diaspora and resistance, and believe safety is found in solidarity. I don’t believe in borders or nations (here’s looking at you Zionism), and am inspired by Jewish solidarity in social justice movements throughout time. The visceral experiences of love I felt and continue to feel with my camp community has taught me about loving and fighting for a world where everyone can have what they need, care and freedom, the way I felt at camp and with camp community.
I LOVE camp and all the friends and community I’ve made through it with ALL of my heart. I cherish my time there and am so deeply grateful for the opportunity to have gone there and to continue being a part of the camp community. I hope that it continues to be a place that is at the forefront of being part of social change movements in this country and the world. And a hope I have for our camp community is that we’re able to really look within ourselves and see the privileges we hold and the opportunity we have to organize within our communities and to stand and work in solidarity with all people for human rights and this world we share, including and especially of Palestinians people who are being oppressed in our names. Thank you for including me this series. I LOVE YOU CAMP!!! :)))
Rachel Birch, 34, Camper 1996-2002, Staff 2003-2006.
Director of Major Gifts and Events at Educational Alliance
I think many of us Kinderlanders say it – but Camp is home. The lake is my happy place. Camp friends are my closest and most important friendships. I have endless favorite memories and stories. But my favorite larger memories are my CIT years. Our bunk became such a close unit despite shifting friendships and dynamics over the years. My last year on staff was 2006, and I’ve visited Kinderland every single summer since (except ONE summer).
Camp helped shape me and continues to influence my decisions and hopes for my future (my hypothetical future children will of course attend Kinderland). I am currently the Director of Major Gifts and Events at Educational Alliance, a 130 year old settlement house on the Lower East Side. I expect my entire career will be geared towards raising money for social service agencies. For my entire professional career I have been dedicated to non-profit work in the pursuit of community engagement and social justice. Camp only strengthened the lessons my parents taught me at home – to take care of others and fight for what’s right.
Hadass Silver, 28, Camper 1990-2006, Staff 2008-2011, 2015
Political Science PhD Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.
One of my favorite camp activities was “showers”- especially when I got an early shower number so I knew I would have hot water. It was just unexpected time to get to hang out, listen to music, and write letters. My favorite memory from Camp is probably sleeping under the stars on our Fourteens trip to Cape Cod. We had this big flat camping area with a huge clearing in the trees above, where we laid out a bunch of tarps. Our counselors told us scary stories, and there was a meteor shower that night. There was one camper who, whenever he turned away, the stars would all shoot, and when he looked back up at the sky they seemed to stop-which added an extra level to the entertainment. I just remember it as a beautiful and somehow both exciting and calm experience.
Currently I’m in my third year of a political science PhD in Philadelphia. My focus is political theory. Camp is only second to my folks in influencing my career path (though it’s hard to separate the two out, given that my folks were camp staff). Being on the Farm Workers, Sanitation Workers, Seabrook, Ban the Bomb, and Highlander School Peace Olympic teams certainly made me see the world through a critical political lens.