Reflections From the Shores | Josh Zirin’s Sermon

Dear Kawaga Family,

I hope you have an opportunity to read second-year counselor Josh Zirin’s sermon.

Josh is from Highland Park; he spoke about how he’s dealing with this unspeakable event while he’s away at camp. His emotions are raw, and his words are touching and wise. We thank him for sharing not only how he’s feeling at this unprecedented time, but also the role camp is playing for him – and for all our boys – now and always.


Shabbat Shalom.

If you don’t know me, my name is Josh Zirin. This is my 10th summer on the Shores and second on staff. I happen to be from Highland Park, Illinois, which, as I am sure you all know, was struck by a horrific act of violence just days ago. I’ve never known what grief felt like, always wondering from the outside how painful it must be.

Well, the answer is very, very painful.

I, along with the rest of you, am blessed enough to not be affected directly by what happened. None of my friends or family were either, and everyone I know is safe, but the events still rattled me to my core. What most troubled me, though, was not the event itself, but my isolation from my town, my family, and my friends.

Coming up to camp every summer feels like entering a bubble, and even more so these past few years. Rarely has that bubble burst, and for the best reasons, because living at camp is living without consequences. When you leave camp, your worries leave with it. Any problem or issue during the summer becomes irrelevant when you re-enter the real world. And trust me, all of you, that isolation is a massive blessing. To be able to live for one or two months without a care in the world is unbelievably liberating. At the same time, however, there are times where it can be difficult, and these past five days have been one of those times for me.

I’ve been struggling recently with my lack of ability to help everyone back home, knowing that my isolation greatly reduces my opportunities to do so. But, as it always does, camp has helped me through this. While I may not be in Highland Park now at my year-round home, I’m here, at Kawaga, at my summer home.

Camp is such an empowering place. Each day when you wake up you immediately have decisions to make. Are you going to do polar bears? Are you going to sleep till the 15-minute bell? Some may have a Sachem job or have to KP. After breakfast you and you alone are responsible for the cleaning of your area and making sure you wash up and change clothes. You take clubs, play leagues, work hard for Mawanda and Sachem points… and all on your own accord. Not to mention the leadership and friendships that camp forges. Each day presents new challenges, but with those challenges come the opportunities to overcome them, and to become better as a result. If you don’t think you have an impact here, I promise you you’re wrong. Whether you’re a CIT teaching a Chip a new skill or you’re a Sioux playing in competition against MoBs for the first time on Jail Day, your days are filled with opportunities to make an impact, but it’s up to you to seize them.

On any particular day, one could build a fire in Outdoor Adventure, learn how to throw a frisbee in Frisbee Club, get up slaloming down at Miracle, play an intense game of football against your best friends during leagues, and end the day running around camp looking for gold or stealing tennis balls from green buckets during an Evening Program. But, then again, each day is what you make it. If you are to take anything from this sermon, I want it to be this: Remember that your time here is limited, but be motivated by that, and use that motivation to have an impact. Have fun, make your own memories, and enjoy the freedom that camp provides.

To end my sermon, I want to leave you all with a quote from one of my 2020 CIT brothers, Ethan Warady, who, due to Covid, was unable to come for our final year as campers. Ethan wrote a letter for us all to open on the last night of camp; it was a page-long letter addressed to all of us. In it Ethan writes, “All of you have no clue how lucky you are. I wish I could’ve spent the summer with you guys and I hope that we can all enjoy camp next year with each other. Going to Camp Kawaga when I was 10 was the best decision ever. I will never forget my summer at home because it showed how Kawaga is my second home.” Ehtan’s words are powerful, and I hope they help you realize how incredible camp is.

Take a minute today to appreciate where you are, there is truly no place like it.