Who The Folk?! Drea Lear

Do you get to work in a place that you love? If you do, then you understand what Drea Lear gets to do every summer. As the Camp Director at Herzl Camp, she gets to spend her summers in Webster, Wisc., and has done so for the majority of her life. What chugim (daily activities), does she want to add at Herzl? Find out this and more in this week’s Who The Folk?!

Have you calculated how many years of your life have been spent in Webster?

I kind of stopped counting. But its been a lot. I used to count shabbatot, but then it got to the place where I just don’t anymore. This is my world, and I love it. Last summer was my 20th at camp. Over the course of the past 22 years, I’ve taken two summers off.

Is your schooling and background what led to you working for Herzl?

Not really. I have a business degree in human resources and management with an emphasis on team development. I always loved the camp model of team building and professional development and all that cool stuff, but I originally want to go into HR on the leadership and development side. No one had ever told me that you could do camping professionally. That wasn’t a thing.

The Foundation for Jewish Camp has professionalized the field over the past 10 to 13 years. I started at Herzl 7 years ago so it was just starting to be professionalized. We already had a director so I didn’t think it was an option. Then I got hired.

How does having more full time professional staff make the camp experience better?

A couple of ways: First, We have the bandwidth to be intentional about programming, about staffing. We can think about all the different aspects of camp. So each year, we’re not only addressing staffing. We’re addressing staffing and the activities that go along with that, and how we care for our campers and the staff training that goes along with all of that. We have the capacity to think about the holistic experience. In the past when it was only one or two people working on it, we had to make a decision; this year we were going to focus on chugim, and the chugim were going to be amazing, but the staff might not be great. Now we can really think about the holistic experience and how every moving piece works together.

Do you focus on the staffing side?

I manage the summer operations process. Everything from camper recruitment, staff recruitment and hiring, and programming. We work as a team to get all those pieces in line. Simcha (Cohen), our assistant director, will manage staff life and all the pieces that go with it. During the summer, I focus on the overall operations of camp, making sure the different moving pieces are in place.

What chugim do you not have that you’ve seen elsewhere and want at Herzl?

Two things. First, we need a high-ropes course. Just those elements of the team building that goes along with it, the self-awareness, the self-growth. There’s so many wonderful things that can be learned from a high-ropes course. We had a high-ropes course, but It came down in a storm in 2011. We need to build that back up and get the right staff to run it.

The next piece, which I’ve seen done at other camps and it’s amazing, I think it’s time we have a teaching kitchen. Especially with our farm and food awareness. And the beautiful, rich tradition judaism has around food, I think there’s some really beautiful things we could do. My goal is that every single one of our campers walks away from camp knowing how to make a knish. Why is that not the case right now?

How revolutionary is the farm in the camp world?

Revolutionary is a big word. It’s new. Herzl Camp was on the earlier side of that. We’ve had the garden going on five years. We’re certainly on the front end of the farm. The Amir Project has been instrumental in bringing outdoor education and farming, and social justice concepts to camps in this really meaningful way. When we signed on, we were one of a small handful. It’s really cool to see how they’ve grown. They have upwards of 30 camps and community centers (including the garden at the Sabes JCC). People thought we were crazy. Now it’s so embedded in who we are and what we do. We have goats this summer! The chickens are back!

Favorite Jewish holiday?

Pesach. I love the seders. There’s so much symbolism. I love getting together with my family, and on the second night we have a tradition where we have friend seder. So it’s me and a group of friends. We all get together and put on a seder where it’s shticky and hilarious it’s cool and meaningful. It is the original experiential learning.

Favorite Jewish food

I gotta go brisket. Classic. My mom makes a killer barbeque brisket.

I don’t need to ask this, but what camp would you choose?

My answer to that question, and I don’t think people know this, but in the Twin Cities, a relatively small percentage of Jewish kids are going Jewish camps in general. It’s only about 15 percent. For me it’s less about Herzl versus another versus whatever. It’s: Let’s get as many Jewish kids as we can going to Jewish camps. What’s beautiful about the Midwest is that we have so many Jewish camps in our area, and there are beds available for anybody who wants to go and there’s scholarship for anybody who wants to go. And I think that’s the most important piece that everybody should know.

Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!