The Agam: Comfort and Independence in and on the Lake

Our three programs on the agam – swim lessons, water toys, and boating – add up to wonderful ways to build comfort in the water, develop independence and responsibility, and have a fantastically fun time!  

For many years, Rotem Ad-Epsztein and Uri Epsztein – joined by Bruce Stanger during first session – have been at the helm of our terrific program at the agam (lake). Rotem, our Rosh Agam (head of the waterfront) for the entire summer, has been a beloved member of the Ramah tzevet (staff) since she first came to Palmer from Israel over twenty years ago. Uri, our Rosh Sirot (head of boating) during second session, has been here many years as well. Yes, they are a married couple! Together, they oversee a large staff of Americans and Israelis, including some young Americans who learned their lifeguard skills when they were Nivonim campers. These staff members ensure that the waterfront remains a safe place that encourages the development of swimming and boating skills – and a place that delights the hundreds of chanichim (campers) who visit every day. 

Chanichim on Tzad Aleph (A-side) have instructional swimming lessons. For newer swimmers and for swimmers who are initially uncomfortable in a lake, the staff focuses on getting the chanichim comfortable in the water. Rotem emphasizes that chanichim must first be comfortable in the water before they learn new strokes; they need to relax their muscles and let go of any stress they may feel in the water. Over the course of their time at the agam, their skills can advance dramatically. One chanich said “I learned to go from zero to ten – I wouldn’t put my head in the water in the beginning of the summer and now I can dive!” For one Shoafimer, a personal goal was met: she swam across the agam and back.  

The Water Park is a place of obvious delight – what young person (or adult!) wouldn’t want to spend time playing on and near these gorgeous water toys?! Surprisingly, visits by the chanichim to the Water Park can also help them to achieve basic comfort in the agam. At the Water Park, all chanichim must wear personal floatation devices (PFD). With the security of the PFDs, they are willing to come down the water slide or jump off the other water toys, which will invariably cause them to go underwater – an easy way to build comfort with this essential swimming skill! In addition, the Water Park is a great place to make new friends in the edah (age group) as chanichim travel around to the different water toys with their swim group.  

Uri notes that at Sirot (boating), chanichim have many opportunities to develop independence and responsibility; they also develop specific boating skills. Many come to Sirot as one of their chuggim (electives) (it’s very popular!); others come for early morning boating with their tzrif (bunk), which is a special moment for tzrif bonding.  

When chanichim are in the boats in the middle of the agam, they also have a unique opportunity to enjoy quiet moments apart from the regular camp tumult, especially in the early morning before camp “wakes up” and the busy camp day begins. This year, the Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUPs) proved to be the most popular as they are the only “boats” from which the chanichim can jump into the water on a hot day. Many chanichim also learned sailing skills from two waterfront staff who are proficient sailors. And a number of Tzad Bet chanichim learned to flip and then right a canoe – an important practical skill that they can take with them into adulthood.  

Each summer, the chanichim have so many ways to experience joy at the agam!