Not even a pandemic could have stopped Camp Yachad from having such a successful summer


This is a photo taken during arrival as both the camper and the counselor were required to wear facemasks. The only transportation to and from camp was by car as busing was not offered this past summer.

Joe Kaplan

No large camp gatherings, no buses, no cafeteria lunches? No problem! Camp Yachad at the Jewish Community Center of Central New Jersey, is known for a few traits: a positive atmosphere, building and sustaining friendships, encouraging leadership and above all, creating a fun, exciting place where campers and staff love to come back year after year. 

This is a photo of one of the campers running through an obstacle course during Color Run. Color Run features the spraying of color dust while doing entertaining activities.

2020 has gotten the best of us. It never occurred to people  that schools would have to close and that many camps and organizations wouldn’t be able to function. A looming question ran through the minds of the Camp Yachad community during the months of March through June: will we be able to open up our camp safely this summer? At the same time, many camp families considered the question: will it be safe enough to send my children to camp? 
Camp director Mallory Zipkin, who has worked at Camp Yachad since 2000, was tasked with the most difficult assignment of them all: figuring out how to open camp and the steps needed to take place in order to operate as safely as possible. Then, on May 29, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order which stated that child care programs could reopen June 15 and that Day Camps were allowed to open on July 6. 
“We [JCC] did not jump immediately to open when [Murphy] said it was okay,” Zipkin said. “We felt really strongly that we needed to read the guidelines and really understand them and to be certain that we felt our center could operationally and holistically really fulfill all the safety precautions to do it right.”
Zipkin and her staff knew that in order for camp to run smoothly, they would have to take COVID precautions extremely seriously. One of the challenging new regulations was having to ensure social distancing took place between groups, which meant little to no interaction amongst groups to avoid gatherings. More key differences that took place throughout the summer was getting rid of the lunch program, built-in sanitization periods, facemasks indoors, no counselor and leader-in-training programs and a massive decrease in the number of children. 
“Knowing that we’d see a drop off because of what people could accommodate, but also what we knew people wanted or didn’t want was financially really scary and for a while the board, as well as myself and my team, were really working hard to find that risk reward,” Zipkin said. 
One of the hardest parts of Zipkin’s job was helping parents decide whether or not the camp was safe enough. She mentioned how it’s impossible to eliminate all risk, but that Yachad would take all precautions to make sure that camp would be safe for children to take part in. Once Yachad opened and ran smoothly, many parents were proud of what Yachad was able to provide for their child(ren), knowing that these children lacked interaction during the shutdown in March.
Zipkin finally mentioned the confidence level she and her staff felt throughout the summer and how it was able to shape the experience through these unprecedented times. 
“I want to say that I felt confident all the time but that would be a really big lie,” Zipkin said. “I didn’t always feel confident. I think that, not to be cliche but this was so unprecedented, and there was no road map for how to do right.”
Junior Anna Saltzman, and senior Elisa Herstatt, were both counselors at Camp Yachad this past summer,  and voiced their emotions on the impact the summer had on them as well as their own campers. 
When I worked at Camp Yachad this summer, I felt as though it was a good opportunity for campers to experience social situations for the first time in months, which is good for their mental health and development as children,” Saltzman said. “The campers made new friends and enjoyed the summer, which was certainly a rewarding experience. Although I was extremely concerned about the pandemic, I was confident in the procedures that the JCC had in place to protect the health and safety of campers and staff.” 
“This summer was definitely different than past years but was still fun,” Herstatt said. “Camp is the place where most kids go after a long hard year of work and need some fun in the sun. This year, although we had many limitations, was still manageable. Counselors were able to give kids relief from the scary parts of the outside world. We formed bonds with them and got to get to know them and their fears. We took the pandemic into consideration because all of us were at potential risk.” 
Camp Yachad concentrated on two main concepts: the idea that camp is needed now more than ever, and the camp’s “ROCKS” values (R for Ruach, which is spirit in Hebrew, O for opportunity, C for community, K for kindness, and S for strength). These values, which Yachad has employed for several years, were most important for summer 2020. 
The future of Camp Yachad is still up in the air. Will it be the same as 2020? What will the financial situation be like for the JCC? Will Yachad be able to offer their travel program? These lingering questions will be considered throughout the school year.  What is certain is that Camp Yachad is able to create a fun, entertaining escape during troubled times. 
“The reality is that many times throughout the last seven months, I thought there was a certain light at the end of a certain tunnel,” Zipkin said. “In June, the light at the end of the tunnel was being able to open, and then when we opened. Then the light at the end of the tunnel was getting through the summer safely, and when it ended, what was going to happen for the preschool. So, what I’m thinking is what are we going to have to pivot for next year.”