What does “Olim” mean?
I’m not asking for a Hebrew-to-English translation. I’m asking in a much narrower way that’s relevant only in Utica, Mississippi: what does it mean to be an Olimer?
The answer to that question has come full circle for me over the last 30 years. In the summer of 1990, when my dad was the Camp Committee Chair and I got to run around Jacobs for a weekend or two every summer, being in Olim meant being a Big Kid. You were sleeping in a cabin with other Big Kids, away from your parents, for almost two weeks! It seemed impossibly exciting, new, and huge.
The next summer, I got the chance to experience it for myself. I was sleeping in a cabin, with new friends and counselors, away from home, for ten whole days! Eating meals in the dining hall and doing all the Big Kid Camp Stuff I’d witnessed as a “staff brat” for years. There was no denying it: being in Olim meant being a Big Kid.
Over 17 more summers at Jacobs, as the Olimers seemed to get shorter and shorter by comparison — both in stature and in length of time at Camp — what it meant to be an Olimer changed drastically in my mind. Of course, when you’re an older camper and you get to be there for a full session, and then graduate to the six-week session, the shorter Olim experience seems like the blink of an eye.
When you become a staff member, and you’re in Utica from the end of May all the way through the beginning of August, the difference becomes even more pronounced. And you become attuned to the stark differences between working with and caring for seven-year-olds as opposed to the older campers. There’s no avoiding the conclusion: Olim is fun, exciting, glorious, and filled with babies.
My time at Camp ended after Olim went home in 2009, and as often happens with experiences in our pasts, the Jacobs Experience spent the next decade sort of frozen in time for me. But my son Samuel was born in 2012, and one of the first things Hannah (multiple-time Olim unit head that she was) and I began talking about was Olim 2019.
When life’s blur ran past and Olim 2019 was mere weeks away, and Sam was registered and ready to roll, it was somehow 1990 again in my head. We were packing up our kid for camp. He was going to sleep in a cabin with a bunch of new friends, away from home — away from us — for ten whole days. That’s nothing a Little Kid can handle.
When you see the photos of your own child riding the zip line, playing ball, swimming in Lake Gary, eating in the dining hall with his new buddies, there’s no avoiding the conclusion: Olim is for Big Kids.
We all know that Sam and many others missed out on their first chance to be Even Bigger Kids by joining the ranks of Gariners in 2020 due to the pandemic and resulting cancellation of in-person camp. The Road to Welcome Home Campaign is laser-focused on making sure COVID-19 takes away only one summer at Jacobs, and does not reach its tentacles into our future as a Camp community. Please give what you can to this vital campaign to ensure all of our Big Kids and Even Bigger Kids continue to be welcomed home each summer for years to come.
Abram Orlansky attended Jacobs Camp as a camper and staff member for many years, finishing his tenure as Assistant Director from 2005-2009. Abram met his spouse, Hannah Gershen Orlansky, at camp, and now their children Sam and Adeline will continue the legacy.