Reflections from the Shores | Ben Gerstein Saturday Sermon

Hello Kawaga Families,

I’m pleased to share with you this week’s “sermon,”which was given at our Saturday-morning services by Ben Gerstein.

Ben is from Highland Park, IL. This is his third year on staff and 11th overall. He just finished his freshman year at the University of Michigan. He hopes to go into politics. At camp, Ben is the Evening Program Director and leads our Mohawk group.

I personally was touched by what Ben wrote in great part because it struck such a personal chord. He articulates so well how so many of us feel about Kawaga, especially as we near the end of summer.

Enjoy the read. And, thank you, Ben.


Shabbat Shalom.

When I originally was writing this sermon, its intention was to be a “goodbye” to Kawaga, where I have spent the last 11 years. It was supposed to be a “farewell” to the place of my most sacred memories and the people who helped create them. However, I refuse to say goodbye to this place even though my return next summer is not guaranteed. It’s just too difficult to leave the place that has had such a profound impact on me since I was just 8 years old.

Kawaga’s pillars, its writings, its songs, its traditions, its sunsets and sunrises, its people, and its unparalleled energy and unique tranquility will never cease to play an immense role in my life. Kawaga’s words, moments, and people and will continue to mold my character. Camp lives in every breath I take, in every decision I make, and in every step as I progress through life.

Kawaga produces an experience unlike any other. Where else does one see 8- to 10-year-olds strenuously try to memorize a 236-word “Ideal,” loaded in meaning and complexity—and then recite it proudly at every opportunity once they have it finally memorized? Where else can you stand and scream your head off at meals, but at the same time grasp the importance of focus and respect of tradition and ceremony? Where else can you run around as a zombie one night and as a pirate on another? Where else can a counselor help transform kids into the best versions of themselves, while those kids also have the same, if not more of, an impact on the counselor? Nowhere but Kawaga.

Kawaga makes powerful memories that hold such profound meaning. I remember when I, like you, sat and watched the CITs on stage during services in 2008 as a Chip. I remember my first cabin in 2007, with bunkmate Tucker Froelich, and being afraid that for some reason a moose was going to run through the cabin. I remember my first tapping ceremony, flinching at the scream of the tapper. I remember my first Sachem in 2010, and the feeling when I recited the oath for the first time. And I remember my final two Sachems in 2015, and the emotions I felt when reciting the oath for the final time. I remember my first Banquet Night, being confused by the tears that streamed down my face. And I recall every Banquet Night since, as I better understood the beauty of camp and the sadness of summer’s end.

Camp fosters unforgettable moments and opportunities, like being able to write an “all nighter”
with my Mohawk B counselor, Max Roberts; running evening programs with the help of two of my best friends; spending summers with the group I have lived through every up and down with for the last 11 years; and watching my brother and best friend Sammy become more of a man and a leader every day.(That’s Sammy with my arm around him in the picture above.)

All of these moments, memories, and experiences weave themselves into a fabric that spells Kawaga. These recollections, although many unique to my personal journey through camp, are similar to the paths of all of you sitting here today and to thousands of the Kawaga campers and counselors who came before us. Kawaga constantly surprises me with its spontaneity and that every summer is the best summer… ever. Every day we are here another chapter of someone’s story is written.

Look around. At Kawaga, we live in a community of about 200 where we all know each other, love each other, understand each other, and have each others’ backs in times of difficulty and challenge. Most people spend their entire lives searching for the home we have created and maintained here for more than 100 years. So… take advantage of every second you are here. Enjoy every second of time in your cabin, because you know—like I do—that when you get in bed at home on that first night back and your bedroom is silent,  it’s the loneliest silence you’ll ever feel.


It seems like just days ago the summer of 2018 began. We were all fresh off the buses, ready for an amazing experience. But now, we gather here with only six days remaining until we depart for home. In six days, we’ll no longer wake up to the echoing of Reveille or go to sleep to the comforting sound of Taps. We’ll no longer sing “Rocky Top” at meals or shoot hoops on the Omni. But, camp does not have to end when the buses pass the Outpost.

The memories I have from my years here thrive when I am not at camp. Within those moments, I find comfort knowing that Kawaga will always be with me, even when I’m not on the Shores. When camp ends, do not bury yourself in sadness. Rather, find joy in the days you spent making memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

As Lou Ehrenreich said in the 1968 passing-of-the-torch ceremony: “Kawaga is not just any camp. It is a heritage and a way of life.” Kawaga helped raise me. It molded me into the person I am today and influences the way I think and act. Kawaga has taught me to live a life guided by our pillars.

As I enter my first offseason without the certainty of my return to camp, I am honestly afraid. I cannot imagine these next 10 months without having Kawaga to look forward to. I cannot imagine a 4th of July at home. And, more importantly, I cannot imagine a summer without my best friends—Garrett, Jackson, Matthew, and Jacob, who have become more than family.

Kawaga has done more for me in 11 years than anything or anyone besides my family possibly could have. It changed the life of a once shy, homesick, and anxious boy. It built confidence in a once hesitant leader. And it created the greatest opportunity for maturation and growth I could have asked for. I would not be me without Kawaga, and I know the same goes for all of you.

So, as the sun sets on another amazing summer and as I reflect on an amazing 11 years, I want to say thank you to each and every one of you. Each of you, in one way or another, has contributed to my personal story of Kawaga and made my experience exceptional. And I hope that I was able to enhance a small part of yours.

Even though, in the next year, manhood might call me away from Kawaga—from North to South throughout the land—I will always pledge the Blue and Gold.

Thank you, Kawaga.