All My Life’s A Circle
Working at camp is not just a job, it really is a lifestyle. If you ask any staff at Camp Chi, they all know that I spend many nights in my office, eventually falling asleep at my desk, waking up with a stiff neck and the imprint of a keyboard on my face. I am a diehard Cubs fan and spend only about 2 months of their season in town. But still I choose to work at camp. I can’t really tell you why I love camp so much. I don’t like going in the cove or doing the ropes course; I’m pretty terrible at sports and my art leaves a lot to the imagination. Still, camp is a huge part of who I am. I have countless Camp Chi Zoom backgrounds that I use, and I love it because camp is my happy place. Camp is where you can just be who you are and just be. It really is awesome.
My favorite part of camp is Shabbat. A little-known fact about me is that I am a double clergy kid; my mom is a Rabbi and my dad is a Cantor. I grew up very involved in synagogue life and attended more services than all of my peers added together. But I was raised at the JCC from early childhood through after school programs and eighteen years at summer camp. That is what formed my Jewish identity. It was about the people, the community, and the values; the same things that are important to each and every one of us. All those values come together for me at Shabbat. It is not the prayers or the dress or the photos with people. It is coming together to just be–sometimes to sing and clap, sometimes to sit silently with arms around each other’s shoulders…to just be.
Nine years ago, I first came to Camp Chi as a Village Leader. I had never been to overnight camp, knew no one anywhere near Lake Delton and had never heard of Camp Chi. Before nine years ago, Shabbat was not special for me. My family did weekly Shabbat dinners, and my day camp celebrated Shabbat, but it was not the same. Shabbat at Camp Chi is incredibly special–from shuk to schmooze, services, dinner, and of course song session; there is no experience quite like a Camp Chi Shabbat.
I remember my first summer sitting on the floor of the dining hall and hearing Harry Chapin’s Circles for the first time. That song has been very special to me ever since, and my campers from that first year, many of whom are now staff, know it. And almost every Friday, one of them comes up to me during Circles or invites me to join them and there’s the knowing smile followed by a quick hug before it’s off to be back to work. Each week during our virtual Song Session or Havdalah, we have played Circles and I get chills as I see campers, parents, alumni, and staff doing the hand motions and showing that even in the most unprecedented of times, the Chi flame continues to burn.
This summer we have turned lemons into lemonade with the exciting opportunity to run Chi Family Getaways. While I usually am spending hours reviewing photos, training bus counselors, and preparing the ins and out of camper travel, this summer I am doing none of that. Instead, I spend a lot of my day as a Dining Hall Door Dash delivery driver, delivering meals to families, a pseudo-camp nurse doing daily health screenings, and focusing on the arrival and departure plans for the many families who are participating in this program.
One thing didn’t change this summer though–the construction of the new Atkins Health Center. In the midst of the craziness that has been this spring and summer, this project continues to move forward. From Zoom calls to site visits, construction meetings, and now the Atkins Health Center groundbreaking, this project has kept me focused. The beautiful, new, state-of-the-art facility excites me because I know how vital it is for keeping our campers and staff safe. Most summers I have spent at Chi, I ended up with a sinus infection, something that has plagued me for years, not just at camp. In fact, during my first summer, I came down with a nasty one during staff training. I was new, sick, and the nurses and doctors took great care of me. Each year I see the medical staff take phenomenal care of everyone over the years, myself included. Whether it is as a patient in the waiting area or exam room, or as the traffic control person during medication pass, the new Atkins Health Center will enhance our abilities to do what we do best–care for each other’s well-being physically, emotionally and spiritually. And now, as we prepare to build a new facility and celebrate a century of Camp Chi, I can’t help but think of that iconic Harry Chapin line, “All my life’s a circle,” in the best kind of way!
– Ari Wartell
Assistant Director of Operations, Camp Chi & Perlstein Retreat Center