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Anna Herman’s Tenth Summer at Camp: The Difference One Person Can Make

URJ leadership told Anna Herman to budget for ten percent fewer campers in her first summer, 2015, than in 2014. Apparently, that kind of decline is expected in a new director’s first year. Instead, Jacobs Camp had twenty-five percent more campers in 2015 than 2014. And Jacobs Camp has only gone up from there! Every aspect of life at Jacobs Camp—camper numbers, staff retention and training, programmatic excellence, and facility growth, to name just a few—have been improved in each of Anna’s ten years as our director.

Everyone in our Jacobs Camp community knows that we have a very special director. That’s true for many reasons—but above all, it’s because Jacobs Camp is home for Anna; and, thanks to her, for all of us. Anna still thinks of herself as that pre-teen from Dothan, Alabama, who came to Jacobs for the first time and found her Jewish joy in Utica, Mississippi.

Anna likes to say, “Our campers deserve the best because they demand so little.” What she means is that Jacobs campers are phenomenal program participants, full of ruach (spirit), and slow to complain about anything that isn’t great. While that attitude could make a director lazy, knowing that her campers will still be satisfied anyway, Anna insists on rewarding positive attitudes, constantly surprising us by exceeding our highest expectations.

Anna is determined to make Jacobs Camp an inclusive home for all. Once, early in her years as director, Anna learned that some members of the community were asking questions about somebody they perceived to be different, making that person feel uncomfortable and like they didn’t belong. By the next Shabbat, every staff member and Chalutzim camper had a Jacobs Camp rainbow t-shirt and a message: Make sure that everybody knows that they belong at Jacobs Camp. The staff and Chalutzim took it from there and never stopped.

In the summer of 2021, being camp rabbi was a secondary role for me during my two-week stay. My primary responsibility was to be the camp driver. Because of Covid, that meant driving to Clinton or Jackson and opening the back of my car for store employees to fill with purchases. Then, when I got back to camp, I would help deliver the goods. 

I was surprised by what Anna was buying—not so much in the way of program supplies, which had been amassed in advance, but a special brand of cereal for one person and gluten free English muffins for another, not to mention various special brands of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. I finally asked Anna what was going on! She reminded me that our staff would ordinarily buy all those items for themselves on a day or night off, but they had to spend their time off in camp so they wouldn’t burst the bubble with the Coronavirus. 

I then followed Anna around the dining hall, as she distributed purchases and made sure that each person had what they needed. What was really going on? Anna was taking care of the staff so that they could concentrate on the campers! 

Anna Herman makes sure that every person in camp is seen. And more than that, Anna makes sure that every person in camp is loved. Anna assures that Jacobs Camp is home for us all. Now that is a decade to celebrate!

About the Author

Rabbi Barry Block

Rabbi Barry Block has served Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock since 2013. He is Jacobs Camp’s faculty dean.