by Sara Beth Berman
“Stop! Door here!” Coleman staff members use their loudest, sturdiest voices, in order to evacuate and escape from a dangerous situation. What would that situation be? Even the discussion about the worst eventuality upsets our staff, as we can’t imagine why anybody would want to hurt our campers. In order to lighten the mood, you hear, “Stop! Lunch here!” as counselors try to deal with the seriousness of what they’re learning to do.
Over the weekend, the story of the Newtown shooting began to take shape. The adult heroes in the story were educators – Sandy Hook’s principal, school psychologist, and teachers – as well as law enforcement, doctors, and clergy. I could see myself – and my coworkers – in every one of their stories. Of course I would – we would – take a bullet to save our students, our campers. Your kids are our kids.
A friend and I talked recently about jobs that do and do not involve risk. Graphic designers, for example, are theoretically less likely to get put in harm’s way at work than firefighters. You’d think that being a teacher or a camp counselor is a pretty safe gig. Challenging, of course, but safe. Teaching the ABCs or the aleph bet, guiding a group of 9-year-olds, spraying unwilling teenagers with SPF 85+, or leading a Maccabiah team to victory isn’t considered a perilous occupation.
What kind of crazy world is it where that has changed? Where we have disaster drills at Coleman, knowing that our staff would hide their own campers in corners to save them. Where the Friday message email from the Davis Academy includes a reminder of all of our own security measures. Where the 1,400+ kids I’ve met, since I’ve started in my job at Coleman and at Davis, come first. Because they’re cute. Because they’re precious. Because they’re special. Because, for 8ish hours a day or two or four or eight weeks during the summer, they’re my children, too. Because, it’s the only thing we could possibly do. Because our tradition teaches us that to “save one life is to save a world entire” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).
I’ve worked for years with many different learners, including kids that are now surgeons, parents and educators in their own right. I do not stop quaking at the thought that someone would want to hurt even a single one. And just as I will never stop trying to learn every kid’s name, I will never stop trying to protect them.
It’s a great and terrifying time to be an educator. I’m so grateful I get the chance to do what I do, and I hope that my colleagues and I never, ever, have to prove that we are as selfless and brave as our colleagues in Sandy Hook had to be on Friday. May their memories be for a blessing.
Sara Beth Berman is the Nadiv Educator at The Davis Academy and URJ Camp Coleman. Nadiv is a program through the Foundation for Jewish Camp, funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and The AVICHAI Foundation. The Davis Academy is a large Reform Jewish Day school in Atlanta, Georgia, with students in Kindergarten Prep through 8th Grade and URJ Camp Coleman is a Reform Jewish summer camp at Cleveland, GA.