It’s Saturday night in a hotel room near Waco.
I’m watching my 9-year-old daughter Reagan as she sleeps.
I’m holding her hand, which is the about the same size as mine.
I’m happy and sad at the same time because on Sunday morning, I drop her off at summer camp not far from where we are staying, for the next 24 days.
Reagan: “Mom, stop staring at me.”
Me: “I thought you were asleep. You have a big day tomorrow and need to sleep.”
Me: “I’m going to miss you. I just want to remember this moment.”
I know when she returns in early August, she will be different.
Reagan was a toddler when I first learned about Greene Family Camp. It’s where children from across Texas and the country transform into mensches — a Yiddish word meaning a person of integrity and honor.
A person of integrity and honor is all a Jewish mother wants her children to become. It’s also a place where screen time is banned and critical thinking is nurtured.
Me: “Ron, I’m signing us up for family weekend at Greene.”
Ron: “All of us?”
That was February 2019 when 7-year-old Reagan, 5-year-old twins Kennedy and Carter, husband Ron and myself spent a weekend at the camp. I went in with the attitude that I was not going to like the place.
Me: “Camp is camp. I went to Girl Scout Camp one summer. They are all the same.”
Ron: “Give it a chance.”
Me: “We will see.”
Reagan: “Dad, when Mom says, ‘We will see,’ it means no.”
Not all camps are the same. What I saw and experienced that weekend at GFC was on a much higher level than what I remembered. I returned home and decided our kids were going to spend their summers at GFC. There is a science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics building; a new fine-arts center, swimming pools, lakes, horses, outdoor sports, team building and Shabbat services.
I finally understood.
Ron: “I knew you would like it.”
Me: “Like? I love it. Now, I have to mentally prepare.”
It turns out, I had two years to prepare. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 summer camp season.
We are a Jewish family in San Antonio, a city with a small Jewish population. After a summer, Reagan will know hundreds of Jewish kids. She is developing communication and leadership skills and building resilience all within a Jewish context.
Here are four important core concepts critical to what GFC offers, written in both English and Hebrew:
Myself-Hineni-הנני — being an individual
Friendship-Reut-רעות — making meaningful and worthwhile relationships
Respect-Kavod-כבוד — respecting your peers and yourself
Jewish People-Am Yisrael-עם ישראל — community of Jewish people
I feel as parents, we are preparing Reagan for the real world, a world that does not follow the Golden Rule. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Texas anti-Semitic incidents went up 5% in 2020.
Hopefully, Reagan’s generation of mensches will change the world.
As I write this, we have 20 more days until Reagan is home. We do get a glimpse of her camp life through an app. Senior camp staff has reached out to us that our Reagan is having tons of fun and even climbed the Alpine tower.
Who knew we had such a brave girl?
Reagan: “Mom, I’m a little nervous to go to camp.”
Me: “You will have so much fun. You won’t even think about your ol’ Mom.”
Reagan: “Don’t worry about me, I will send you a sign, Mom.”
I scroll through the tagged photos of her we receive on the app, searching for a sign that she is doing well. I finally see it … on her feet.
Reagan: “Mom, I’m setting a trend. It’s OK to be different … we are all different.”
Reagan is wearing different-colored tennis shoes. I can hear her say, “Mom, how boring if we were all the same.”
My girl is going to be fine. Her mind is open to learning. Our brilliant girl is teaching others, in her own way, that being different is what makes us the same.
Gina Galaviz Eisenberg is a mother of Reagan and twins Kennedy and Carter. She and her husband, Ron, own the public-relations firm The Eisenberg Group.