Alumni Spotlight – Adam Watstein

by Camp Caribou on February 12, 2021

Adam Watstein

Rabbi at B’nai Aviv

Weston, Florida

Meet Adam Watstein, our newest Alumni Spotlight!  Adam is currently the Rabbi of the B’nai Aviv congregation in Weston FL.  As a Rabbi during these crazy times, Adam has been hosting Friday Torah Talk Live on Zoom and has moved the majority of his services outside.  Watstein now has three children, all of whom are HUGE Patriots fans!    Adam is still in touch with Caribou Alums: Danny Brown, Joey Sigal, Craig Aframe, Ben Sigal, and David Noble.  And you have to check out his mom’s bakery in Sharon, MA –   Nannas Vegan Bakery!

Adam is a phenomenal writer and his memories of camp come alive in his responses below:

Favorite Camp Memory:

Every alum knows this is an impossible question.  No chance of whittling down the most formative summers of my life to a single memory, but I do have one that captures the way I think most of us felt during those incredible summers.  I fractured some of my ribs in a baseball game days before my third summer was set to begin.  And because it was the early 90’s, everyone agreed it was totally acceptable to throw me onto a Peter Pan bus by myself a week later for a 6-hour marathon ride to Waterville.  I can still feel the boredom.  No gadgets, no conversation, a bunch of 15 minute stops…When I finally exited the bus, it was liberation.   Scott Corey was waiting by a Caribou van with huge smile and a bag lunch for me.  I got to ride in the front seat, which was, as we all remember, a coveted spot. But, the ability to have a one-on-one with a Caribou legend was the real prize of the ride.  The summer had officially begun. As we pulled into camp, Bill and Martha were waiting with shouts of welcome to greet me, and their enthusiasm made me feel literally like the only kid in camp.  That was and remains Caribou’s mythical secret.  Hundreds of campers over decades, and yet somehow each of us was made to feel valued, loved, empowered…and most of all special.  Now that I have kids of my own, I really don’t know how they do it, but 30 years later when I talk to them, they somehow still make me feel the exact same thing.

What Caribou values or lessons have you brought into your life after camp? 

I often tell my kids bedtime stories about “daddy’s adventures in summer camp,” and a favorite of theirs is always my bunkmates and I standing at the edge of our beds, two Styrofoam cups on the floor (one for rinsing and one for spitting), and my very first counselor, Bill Ciers, captaining us through a 3-minute teeth brushing routine.  They think it’s hysterical.  In hindsight, it was genius.  Bill’s Navy background was mythical to the impressionable mind of a 10-year-old, and he used it to get entitled, undisciplined kids to brush their teeth at night.  But his influence on us, and me in particular, extended far beyond good dental hygiene.

Caribou is Caribou because of excellent counselors.  Their job could have been to simply tolerate us—to take solace in the fact that while most of us were pains in the ass, the summer was short—but instead counselors invested in us.  That first summer, Bill Ciers taught us basic life skills like how to fold our laundry, pack a cubby, hang wet clothes on a clothesline, and make a bed.  The patience he must have had!

I was a homesick, immature, and sheltered little boy that summer. I was too young to envision the type of man I could become.  With my parents hundreds of miles away, my counselors (all of our counselors!) were inserted as surrogates, and rather then “babysit,” the good ones chose to nurture.  They were teachers and mentors, planting seeds for traits that wouldn’t even begin to grow for years. During my late 30’s, I started reflecting on the events and personalities that guided my life’s choices and helped form my identity, asking where and when I was introduced to attributes like courage, accountability, responsibility, honor, discipline…and memory lane kept leading back to Winslow.   Plucking just one of those for this question was tough, but when it comes to a lesson I’ve brought into my life after camp…it’s easiest to start at the beginning with Bill Ciers.

It was freezing.  Bill (Lerman) had warned us at dinner that the temperature was going to drop and to bundle up.  The cold was so biting I woke up shivering in the middle of the night.  When I opened my eyes, blanket curled tightly under my chin, I saw Bill grabbing extra blankets from the rafters, and, one by one, bringing them to each one of us.   He tiptoed to every bed, carefully covering us and managing not to wake a soul…and when he made his way to me, I closed my eyes so he didn’t know I was awake.   He could see I was shaking and that the one extra blanket wasn’t going to suffice, but there were no extras.  He walked over to his bed, took HIS own blanket and added it to the pile over me.  I never said a word… and it wasn’t the only cold night of the year.  Several mornings we all woke up with an extra blanket, but that night I saw where they came from.

That moment has stuck with me my whole life.  My counselor taught me incredible lessons those summers and exposed me to behaviors and traits I’ve strived to emulate for 30 years. But on a treacherously cold Maine night, Bill Ciers taught me that being compassionate towards others doesn’t always come with a reward, nor is compassion extended simply because there is an audience.   Being righteous when everyone is looking is easy.  Being righteous when no one is looking is rare.  I learned THAT at Caribou.

Life Lesson learned at Camp:

Keeping it to Caribou, I’d have to say the most important piece of life advice I got was “Jump!” Scariest word of my first summer…BY FAR.  Despite a paralyzing fear of heights, Bill kept convincing me to sign up for “ropes,” as if my legs would miraculously stop shaking the more ascents I made.  I’d start trembling at about 8ft, but Bill would scream another 3 or 4 feet out of me with motivational speak that was part English and part Lermanism.  Eventually, I conquered the catwalk, only to discover that getting to the top was half the battle.  Staring down at the ground was when the real fear took over… frozen stiff about two steps onto the log.  Pretty sure I cried.  Bill’s shouts of encouragement blurred into a mess of noise as I stood there stuck…just me and the horrifying sight of the ground below.  The belay line was literally my lifeline, and I held it with a white-knuckle grip when a single word snapped me out of it: “JUMP!” (Bill may have yelled it more than once) My feet eventually touched the ground, still shaking, but I felt amazing.  I was at the ropes course the next day.  By my second to last summer, I was chosen to represent my team on the ropes course during Olympics…But here’s the thing…Now that we are adults, we all know that the paralyzing fear some of us felt during those first climbs will eventually creep up again…Life is littered with really scary obstacles, much worse than the ropes course, but the value I took from that day wasn’t about being the scared guy who summons the courage to jump, but rather to be the “Bill Lerman” in those scenarios.  Caribou is a sacred place that challenges its campers to become the type of person who holds the belay line tight with support, letting those who need it most know that we’ve got them…that they will be ok.  Learned that valuable lesson from Bill and Martha.