Welcome Letter From The Camp Director

Dear Laurelwood Community,

On the last evening before our staff left, we sat around the bonfire on Girls’ Side and reflected on the summer 2022. Counselors gave shoutouts to the people who made the biggest difference in their Laurelwood experience and we heard stories and songs commemorating yet another incredible camp season. As we sat there, I was grasping at what to say to close the summer. How could I sum up two months of memories into a meaningful speech, as our staff were itching to end the formal program and head out to spend a last night with their friends? I remembered a speech I had written exactly seven weeks prior, leading up to the night before the campers’ arrival. I planned to have four or five staff members talk about their camp journey and end with my own story. What struck me on that night, however, was how powerful and meaningful every speech was. I started reading mine over, preparing to use it to cap the event, but it didn’t seem to measure up or fit with the tone of that evening. So I let it sit, and seven weeks later, I found the opportunity to finally speak to the staff about the power of tradition and innovation. I’d like to share these thoughts with you, our Laurelwood community:

In my years at Laurelwood, I’ve seen, as you all have, how traditions are woven into every part of camp; traditions about prayers we sing before and after meals, how we walk to services, and even what food we eat on Shabbat mornings. There are traditions that guide how to dress on cookout days, which theme days happen when, and how we fake-break Big O.

These traditions go back to a time before the start of Laurelwood, and flow through generations of campers and staff to the beginning of time. Without them, camp would close and we’d all have to go home, or so we may believe.

Except then there is innovation; innovation like “one bagel, one donut”, or awards on Saturday mornings, or singing Country Roads after Shabbat dinner every week. New and brilliant things that have made camp better throughout the years. You may be saying, “but those traditions have been with us forever” and even though this is not true, it feels that way.

That’s because innovation quickly becomes tradition at camp, and as new things become part of our daily lives, we can hardly remember a time before them.

So how do we balance these two conflicting things, tradition and innovation, which so often come into conflict with each other? Tradition doesn’t leave room for anything new to take its place and innovation always tries to update tradition to make things “better”.

First, we have to ask ourselves, “Why do traditions exist?” Our camp’s vision states, “We envision a kinder world supported by generations of goodness and a vibrant Jewish community.” Traditions weave eighty-five years of camp together and create a place that feels as comfortable to our parents as it does to us. Our connection and love for camp spans generations, all tied together by traditions.

Those traditions, however, don’t just appear. Saturday morning awards, Sailing Down the River, and Wacky Wednesdays all began with an idea that something new could make camp better. So now, as you wrap up the summer, with all the responsibilities that came with your job, I’m going to add one final thought. Understand that the innovation that YOU brought to camp today may become a tradition for tomorrow. You are now part of the tradition of camp, and you are now part of the innovation of camp.

The end of summer always brings up questions about where camp is heading next. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to look back before moving forward. History and tradition matter at camp, and while they can’t dictate our future, they should help to guide it.

Whether you are a parent, a camper, a staff member, or an alum, I hope you’ll continue to help camp evolve with new and exciting ideas. I also hope that you’ll use your own memories, Laurelwood’s history, and our beloved traditions as a way to tie generations of camp together.

Louis Lasko
Camp Director