Blue Star Blog

Time for Growth in a Fast-Paced World






Spring Blog Series 2023 – By BSC alumnus and current associate director, Matt “Fish” Eisenman

Last summer, in addition to celebrating Blue Star’s 75th anniversary, I also celebrated some personal camp milestones. It was my 20th summer on staff and my 30th summer at Blue Star. I always loved camp; I never imagined that it would become so foundational to my adult life, lifelong relationships, and my children’s upbringing – but here we are. Often when I reconnect with friends from my camper and early staff days, they ask some version of this question: “Is camp still the same?” 

And I think about this a lot – is camp the same? In many ways, and in the most important ways, it is exactly the same. I remember staying at a hotel in town the night before camp (it was the one in Hendersonville that had a mini-golf course and a waterslide inside). Who would be in my cabin and what would they be like? Would I fit in? Would my counselors be as cool as I hoped they would be? While we now “pre-assign” bunks and the race to the front gate to pick your bed in the cabin no longer exists, life in the cabin is pretty much the same. We played many of the same games (rafterball dominated my life as a pioneer boy, and it is still the cabin game). The rhythms of camp life are pretty much the same – cabin clean up, swim, athletics, options, and evening programs. We ask campers to write old-fashioned letters on Shabbat (and most do). Color War and Zimriah are still the camp wide programs campers look forward to on Sundays.

The other core aspect that is the same is that the value of camp – the Blue Star Magic – is not in the daily activities and special programs, but in the relationships built over the course of a session, a season, or  multiple summers. The magic is in the conversations shared between bunks, on the athletics fields, walking to the dining hall, and in all of those “little” moments throughout the summer. The magic is in the connection to a counselor that helps a camper through their “homesick” transition to camp or that first break up (following that first “real” boyfriend or girlfriend). Camp time still feels like both forever and no time all at once. And at camp the real things do take time. Relationships – the lifelong ones we often talk about when reflecting on camp – take time to build. It is only after that summer at camp, and often over many summers, that we leave camp with the friends and mentors who become the hallmark of the reflections of generations of Blue Star campers and staff.

While camp really hasn’t changed, the pace of the world “beyond the red gate” has continued to accelerate. As I was putting my oldest son, Reid, to bed a few weeks ago and we were reading one of my old Where’s Waldo? books, an envelope from a camp friend, postmarked 22 AUG 1996, fell from Waldo’s pages. Unfortunately, the letter itself was gone, but the return address and postmark brought me right back to the weeks after my summer in Senior 1. Could our current campers imagine writing a letter to a friend, waiting for them to get it, and hoping they write back? Outside of camp the speed of that response has become almost instantaneous. Our campers (and us as parents too) have become accustomed to that instant feedback. Our children’s schools post photographs, send regular classroom updates, and put grades online immediately. We email teachers and expect a quick resolution. Our kids will never know the pains of having to make sure no one is on the phone and then the “musical” sounds as the dial up internet connects. Today, these delays and so many others are foreign to our lived experience.

As I reflect on what has changed about camp, it isn’t that camp has changed all that much (though the addition of the brand new equestrian barn, the new waterski cable park on the Old Lake, a new rock climbing tower, and all of the capital improvements over the past decade certainly stand out), it is that the pace of everything outside of camp has approached near instant gratification. And not just for our kids – for us as parents and professionals as well.

This summer, let’s lean into the magic of slow time. A camper feeling homesick in their transition needs time to adjust. A camper working through the age-old middle school challenges of shifting friend groups needs the time and space to work through those challenges. A friendship, formed out of common interest and shared experience, needs the space to be nurtured. We can’t slow down the pace of change and the immediacy of feedback in the real world, but for a few weeks this summer, we can let that Blue Star Magic slow things back down into real time.

Thoughts on our 75th season and New Year’s Wishes!

This past summer during the Friday night services at our 75th reunion weekend I had the privilege of speaking to our camp community in the Elmore Solomon Chapel. It was our first Shabbat service of our 75th season. Seth and I wanted to share this speech with you all. We are incredibly grateful for a wonderful and extra sweet 75th summer. Thank you to all our Blue Star campers and families, as well as our incredible staff, for making our 75th season of Summer Magic a true celebration of our camp’s values and spirit.

We are wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year! 

Chapel Thoughts from 5-27-22:

Thank you for being here to help us celebrate our 75th season of summer magic. Herman & Rosalie (and all of the founding brothers and their families) and my Mom and Dad would be so proud. Georgia O’Keeffe said, “to create one’s own world takes courage.” Our founders not only had the courage to bring their vision of a summer camp for Jewish children to life, the world they created also became a home to over a hundred thousand camper and staff alumni over the past seven and a half decades. How wonderful, that our little planet Blue Star, our home away from home, will continue to welcome children and staff this summer and in future summers, in our 75th season and beyond!

In thinking about what I wanted to relay to you here tonight in our beautiful Elmore Solomon Chapel, I found my mind (and heart) wandering back in time to my childhood at camp, to my camper and staff years. I imagine those memories are the same ones that brought you here this weekend: what we recall from being part of this magical place when we were young.

We were given:

The freedom to figure out our “stuff” on our own.

A little privacy, some “breathing room” from our lives at home and our parents.

Space for self-discovery and the empowerment that comes along with that.

Opportunities to find out what we were good at, what we were passionate about, who “our people” were (and in so many cases, still are).

Our hearts were open, we had fun, we were mischievous. We laughed for hours at night in our bunks after lights out. Our friendships were genuine. We felt deeply connected to each other and to the place; we were part of something bigger than ourselves (our cabins, units and camp community). We were accepted. We belonged. We got to be Jewish together while also finding our own individual connections to our faith. And on top of all of that…we got to experience the magic of the natural world on this gorgeous piece of land:

The scent of the trees and the fresh air.

The wondrous night skies.

The sound of the rain on the cabin roof.

The views from the top of Mt. Pinnacle.

The cool evenings and mornings, the sunrises and twilights, the sounds of the bull frogs and the birds. How fortunate we were to get to experience life at the foot of this magical mountain when we were young…what a gift to us children, now grown, that we can share with our children as they grow up!

Blue Star gave us something to believe in because it has always been “a camp with a purpose.” Herman & Rosalie and Rodger & Candy all understood that camp was a microcosm for what we could achieve in the world outside of our front gate. They believed that through the experiences campers and staff had at Blue Star, we could build a society that was peaceful, fair, equitable, humane, and loving. Now more than ever, we need institutions, people, and places that we can put our faith in.  As we continue to bear witness to the unspeakable tragedies occurring in our country and across the globe as well as the climate crisis, at Blue Star this summer, we recommit to being “kind to each other and kind to the planet.”

We have hope that we can resonate at a higher level to rebuild our communities, cities and country in ways that better reflect our true values. In our 75th season, we again get to create our own little universe at camp. Being part of it gives us a sense of possibility, gives us something to continue to put our faith in.  So tonight in our Chapel, we ask for a blessing for our world….may we come through these darker times and find our collective “true north.”

May our campers always know the joy of being young at Blue Star. May they love it as much as we have. May the quality of that experience be gifted for generations to come. May the place have the power to continue to shape and change the world for the better.

We are so grateful for your presence here this weekend, for your love for camp and each other and for the enduring connection we share. Happy 75th to Blue Star and to all of us here to celebrate it!

Here’s to many more magical summers together @ Blue Star! – Lauren Popkin Herschthal


Kind to each other; Kind to the Planet

For our 75th anniversary season, Lauren & I want to be intentional about our summer theme. We hope to crystallize the internal mantra we have lived out over the past decade. Since 1948 Blue Star has been a pioneer in the sleepaway camp space, building a community every summer where loving kindness and compassion radiate at the core. To share kindness with others, we first learn to be kind to ourselves. From that place we show kindness to all of the other ‘good people’ at camp. At the same time we act with greater awareness in honoring our beautiful natural surroundings and summer home. This generation of Blue Star campers becomes the Conservation Generation by being kind to the planet, helping ensure that the camp’s natural environment is sustained for future generations.

From Derek Thompson’s poignant article in The Atlantic (“Why American Teens Are So Sad”) a recent survey out of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (my alma mater) citing the spike in loneliness over the past two years among children and teenagers, the concept of a loneliness epidemic is clearly documented. For Lauren & me, the follow-up question is how can Blue Star be a positive force for addressing this reality head on? Rather than shy away from the challenge, we embrace it. In fact, this is our WHY! Framing this summer with a focus on practicing kindness blazes a path forward. Teaching and modeling for our campers how to be kind to ourselves is the giant first step. Our counselors and camp leaders can show campers how to practice forgiving themselves when they have acted unkindly to a cabin mate. In our daily Circle Ups, we can practice sharing something we love about ourselves with our cabin mates and counselors. Kindness can be learned.

When we are centered within ourselves, there is no limit to the kindness we can share with others. One of my teachers in the practice of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), Tara Brach, leads meditations rooted in radical compassion. How many opportunities exist in one day at camp to be kind to another camper? Consider the first time Blue Star camper trying to fit in with their cabin mates. This is a moment for a returning camper to invite their new cabin mate to join the Top Trumps card game or the GaGa pit or the Crazy Creek Chair chillax circle at waterfront. Our leadership team will shine a light on these moments and be there to encourage and support campers in seizing these kind moments.

During our Friday night Shabbat services and in daily one-on-one conversations with campers walking around camp, Lauren & I commit to shining a light on the beauty of the nature all around us at camp. As we walk and talk with campers, we will pick up pieces of Granny’s trash on the ground. Hopefully, campers will follow. In the dining halls we will announce that we are composting by shouting, “Compost…Boom!” At least, I will shout it out. Eventually, campers will follow as they have for years. We all live “10 for 2” and count the days until we get to camp. Being kind to the planet is a concrete way to do our part in maintaining the awesome nature that is our summer home away from home. Let’s be kind together…

The Good People







Carpe diem. As educators and camp directors, Lauren & I feel the pressure to create a safe, healthy and fun ‘bubble’ where campers can simply be campers. In 75 years of Blue Star magic, camp has never been more important for our children than right now. This extra special camp season marks our 75th anniversary, also known as the Diamond Jewbilee. It’s a really big deal! What keeps us inspired, motivated and working tirelessly is the very good work of guiding children into being their best selves and evolving into good people. Lauren’s grandfather and one of the co-founders of Blue Star, Herman Popkin, spoke about the mission of camp as building good people. The phrase—the good people—is a reference to Danny Siegel’s poem of the same title.


The Good People

The Good People everywhere

will teach anyone who wants to know

how to fix all things breaking and broken in this world –

including hearts and dreams – 

and along the way we will learn such things as

why we are here

and what we are supposed to be doing

with our hands and minds and souls and our time.

That way, we can hope to find out why

we were given a human heart,

and that way, we can hope to know

the hearts of other human beings

and the heart of the world.  – Danny Siegel


My late mentor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ted Sizer, reminded me often that children always are watching the adults and learning from our modeled behavior. This concept helps ground us in how we speak, act and even think aloud alongside our campers. A question I grapple with is whether humans are inherently good, and how much our communities can impact whether that innate goodness expands or contracts over time. At camp we seize the opportunity each summer to create anew an inclusive and authentic community where every camper and staff member can practice doing good. Equally important is owning when we make a poor decision with our words or actions that hurt someone else. Part of the work is holding space for all campers to reflect, learn and grow from those mistakes.

One way we facilitate this growth is through our daily cabin or unit Circle Ups. These are officially scheduled activity times where the adults at camp lead the campers in sharing their feelings. Last summer one of our senior camp’s unit leaders came up with his own unit wide mantra to drive the point home: “Talking about our feelings is cool.” The format of the Circle Ups varies widely and might take the form of a “Rose & Thorn” (where everyone shares a low point and then a high point from their day), “Pass the Positive” (where everyone shares a piece of positive feedback to another member in the circle) and much more. Yes…Lauren & I do this at home with Rose & Eli around our dinner table.

After a decade of being in our roles as the 3rd generation owners/directors of Blue Star, I am grateful for the opportunity to influence positively the next generation of good people. Since I was a head counselor back in the day, I dreamed of becoming a summer camp director. Every day I wake up super energized to double down on the good work. Lauren & I feel humbled to carry the torch and do our part in teaching campers how to be good people. A massive debt of gratitude goes out to all of those who came before us and all of those who will come after us. To the good work!

Together @ Blue Star


With camp in our hearts and on our minds, we are pumped to share our theme for the 74th season of Blue Star Magic…

Together @ Blue Star 



We know that we are not alone in our reflections from the past year…it’s been a wild one! All of us have experienced our lives differently over the past fourteen months. The shift in perspective has​, at points​, been tough. At the same time, it has proved to be positive and even affirming​, too. For many of us, life has become more simple with a newfound clarity around our priorities.

That sense of simplicity and realigning our lives to reflect what is most important came up often as a topic during our Virtual Summer Leadership retreat in the spring. Our team most missed and most highly valued “in person” connection with friends and family and even just the feeling of inhabiting space with other humans for a concert or a little league game. As we excitedly began planning for our 74th season of Summer Magic, our summer theme became clear! Through connection and togetherness, we can not only help campers return to a sense of normalcy, but we can also highlight a simple and profound lesson that rings true to the camp experience we offer at Blue Star. Being together with our camp friends at camp is what camp is all about, and at Blue Star, happiness is real when shared!

Our intention in selecting this summer’s theme is the idea that we are all in it together. My sister (physician, mother and peaceful warrior) recently introduced me to the Raising Good Humans podcast with Dr. Aliza Pressman (developmental psychologist, parent educator and mother). On an April episode, Dr. Ken Ginsburg (renowned adolescent health expert and a father of twins) spoke with Dr. Pressman about the growth opportunities available to us if we can harness them as we emerge from the pandemic. He reminds us about children’s biological need to connect face-to-face with others.

He ALSO ​describes a metaphor that really hit home for us at camp… Dr. Ginsburg notes that, individually, one stick is very susceptible to breaking under the stresses of nature. “When joined with a bundle of sticks, it’s impossible to break. Together, we are more powerful than the sum of our individual parts.” This summer at camp we will all be able to be there for each other, to support each other and to be strengthened by our connections and friendships.

As we embark upon our 74th season, we are ready to be present, to return to simplicity, to lead with gratitude and most of all to provide meaningful and joyful moments of togetherness. This is the essence of the Blue Star experience! We are one happy Blue Star family and can’t wait for all our campers and staff to once again be…

Together @ Blue Star

New Rituals in a New Year

Carpe diem. Waking up this morning, I felt a mix of bittersweet emotions rushing in all at once. While this complex feeling did not catch me off guard today, it nevertheless retained its initial punch. Rather than getting stuck I chose to tend to one of my new pandemic rituals. Before checking on our kids to ensure they were up and beginning their weekday morning routines, I had created just enough time and space for me to take care of myself. For no more than ten to fifteen minutes I got to work with my makeshift yoga, stretching and mostly mindfulness-based session in the kids’ playroom. Watching my thoughts pop like microwave popcorn, I worked to not let each one sweep me away for too long. From pose to stretch I kept returning to a focus on my breathing. When the family noise entered the frame I was ever so slightly more grounded and ready for the day.

In her recent New York Times article, Pandemic-Proof Your Habits, Kate Murphy urges her readers to lean into pandemic life with an openness and curiosity around finding new rituals and routines to buoy ourselves for the daily journey. She paints a picture of what the research tells us about how our brains have evolved both to help us survive on the most basic level and also to find meaning on a deeper level. In fact, it is the very rituals and routines we perform regularly that anchor us. Further, it is not even the actual behaviors in and of themselves that help us feel safe; rather, it is the regularity of practicing them (subconsciously or consciously) that provides the comfort. One of the reasons many of us are feeling an individual and collective sense of grief around the holiday season that just passed is that our pre-pandemic rituals have been thrown out the window. Here is where the opportunity lies: we can create new rituals that work for us right now.

A professor of neuroscience at the University College London, Karl Friston, says, “our brains are statistical organs that are built simply to predict what will happen next.” In other words, we condition our minds to minimize surprise. Whether it’s the way you make your coffee in the morning or the weekly Pilates class you attend, there are many things we do to help mitigate the difference between our expectations and reality. Although we can not control everything (or really not very much at all in the big picture), we absolutely can exert control over our rituals and routines. When our brains are freed up to not have to consider anew every single choice we make every day, we conserve more brainpower for higher order thinking which encompasses finding meaning in life. Last summer at camp our programming team worked smarter to build in new rituals that both were safely following our Covid-19 protocols and were fully honoring many long time traditions. For example, Color War took place over two consecutive Sundays, with the spirited competition kept within each of the twelve unit-cohorts of Blue Star. This Color War featured a second unique break out to kick start the second Sunday’s events; we even had a professional outdoor stage built on the lower athletic field for the final Sunday’s song fest where each unit-cohort sat separately in their socially distanced spaces. A camp-wide program; re-imagined during the pandemic.

One new Blue Star ritual this past winter break was our “Blue Star Virtual Winter WildCard Day.” We hope the new experience gave campers, parents and staff creative ways to connect with one another and connect with some camp favorite activities. As we begin 2021 we look forward to connecting with all of you soon…l’chaim to a brighter & sweeter New Year!

A Way Forward…

Carpe diem. Together, we made history. Reflecting on this summer at camp, I am reminded that Blue Star always has been about the people and the multi-generational relationships that form through sharing the Summer Magic together.

During the first few days of super session I was buoyed by the unbridled laughter and joy expressed by so many campers doing the most natural and simple of camp activities with their cabin family units. Playing in the pool. Climbing the rock wall tower. Practicing martial arts and fine arts. Seeing how excited so many of our cohorts got when it was their turn to play on the inflatables on the lake and go tubing on the cable park filled us with joy. Every day campers had opportunities for freedom and wonder in the mountains.

Moreover, campers were connecting meaningfully with their old friends and re-learning how to build new friendships. They looked up to and learned from our staff who became their mentors, teachers and coaches.

We practiced being kind to each other and to the planet. Our Teen Village Green Team continued our recent tradition of creatively educating and modeling for our younger campers how to be kind to the planet. They doubled down on our compost (boom!) efforts and personally ensured that our recycle bins were out all around camp and being emptied properly. This summer so many of us found a bit more time to truly appreciate and be stewards of the natural world.

So much of our time together was a real life PSA for following evidence based public health protocols, making them fun and abiding by them to maximize our time together in our safe “bubble.” Senior Boy campers wrote, directed and starred in a Washy Washy video that became part of one of our Saturday BSC TV installments. We couldn’t get enough of the Washy Washy; for sure, our staff and campers will be returning home with a deeper appreciation for hand washing. In camp’s authentic way it became catchy, cool and fun.

The only way forward through this pandemic is to do the right thing individually in service of our larger community. Our staff and your campers, with your unconditional support, showed how that is possible. All of us took a leap of faith, like the one at our ropes course, and made a commitment to one another. We are indebted to our core values staff who banded together to make it all happen. We feel immense gratitude to our camp families for their trust in us and we look forward to all being back together again at Blue Star in Summer 2021. Together, we made history.


Written by Blue Star leadership team member Stacey August

#campfriendsarethebestfriends. Livin’ 10 for 2. Forever Home. Growing up at an overnight summer camp and working at two different overnight summer camps has created a unique network of friends for me over the years. I’ve celebrated sweet sixteens, visited camp friends in college, witnessed beautiful weddings, seen camp friends become parents, and I am sure there will be much more “growing up” together in the coming years. What is unique is that we’ve stayed close (and maybe even become closer) though we are all over the country and world.

After each summer, camp friends practice keeping in touch and create a new sense of community at home. The real face-to-face connections that are made at camp build meaningful relationships… you quickly celebrate the good times and help friends through the tough times without judgment. Campers are encouraged to discover their best and most authentic selves. I often say that camp friendships are “realationships.” The return home is always the most difficult part. However, this time apart each year helps us to reflect, appreciate, and have gratitude for the time we get to spend together as part of a larger camp family in the summers.

As we find ourselves in this “new normal” of social distancing, #campfriends know that we can do this! For over 73 years, Blue Star campers, staff, and alumni have been keeping in touch and building stronger relationships from afar. The Blue Star family and camp communities all over the world can be leaders in navigating this difficult time. We all can generate and share the positive energy that we need to keep on keeping on! I believe we will develop an even deeper appreciation for the moments that we get to share together face-to-face and that we can draw on support from each other while we are apart.

And I want to send a big shout out to our alumni…many of our alumn kept in touch solely by letter writing, phone calls on landlines(!), and possibly seeing each other at the December reunion to keep connected in between camp seasons. We now have all kinds of different platforms to keep in touch (including this blog).

So, camp friends: just remember that we were made for this. This is your time to shine. Blue Star is here for you and we cannot wait to actually be back at our Forever Home.