By JAYNE JACOVA FELD
Lisa David was a shy fifth-grader when she and her trunk of belongings arrived for her first summer at Camp Harlam in the summer of 1988.
While she couldn’t have known the outsized influence the overnight camp would play in her life, she sensed almost immediately that she had found her home away from home in the Poconos, a wooded oasis that would beckon her back for years to come.
She returns this June as the camp’s new director: The first in Harlam’s 59-year history whose initial Harlam experience was as a camper. David is stepping into the role held since 2011 by Aaron Selkow, who has been promoted to the organization’s first-ever executive director.
“It really is a dream come true and an honor,” said David, who is also the first woman named to the position. “Probably as an 11-year-old camper I didn’t imagine myself in this role. But the more time I spent in the camp field, it was always in the back of my mind.”
David, who met her husband–the future Rabbi Ben David, Adath Emanu-El in Mt. Laurel’s spiritual leader–during her very first summer at Harlam, spent every summer of her youth in Kunkletown, PA, first as a camper and then as a counselor. Never straying from jobs involving youth, camping or both, she earned a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania in social work and one in Jewish Communal Service at Gratz College. After spending nearly a decade as associate director of Camping for the Union for Reform Judaism, she returned to Harlam in 2014 as assistant director.
“At some point, Camp Harlam was going to have a director that grew up as a Harlamite,” said Selkow. “And there was going to be a point when the leader of the camp would break the mold of Arie Gluck and others to have a woman at the helm. When you consider these inevitabilities, could there be a better choice to run Camp Harlam than Lisa David?”
“She is a superstar,” Selkow continued. “She’s bright, thoughtful, and so talented. With all the experience she brings from her academic achievements, her work in the field, her success as a leader at the URJ, it all equates to an ideal selection to direct Camp Harlam.”
In her new role, David will take on more aspects of the running of the residential camp, including supervising the staff, while still working year-round in partnerships with local congregations, Jewish Federations and alumni networks, and continuing to supervise Jewish life and learning. In addition to the sleep away version, Harlam has run a day camp since 2014.
She will continue spending her summers at camp, joined by her children and (on weekends after Shabbat) husband Ben, who volunteers two weeks each summer as resident rabbi.
She marvels at the role Harlam continues to have in her life.
“It’s incredibly empowering both for campers and staff, and, in some ways counter-cultural in a very healthy way,” she observed. “We really do teach about and live values because we can control the environment. We are able to disconnect from technology and some of the outside stressors that campers and staff experience and, instead, focus on building relationships, skills and confidence.”
Particular to her own family’s experience, it’s a chance for the David children to see their parents in a different light.
“It’s a wonderful place for my family to be part of and a healthy environment for my children,” she added. “My children see their father all year round in front of the community in a leadership position. At camp, they get to see their mom in a leadership position in front of their community.” s