November 10, 2017

Law and Order: SCU (Summer Camp Unit)

Guest Contributor: Steve Goldstein

At Camp Ramah, it is a tradition to have guests come into your bunk at lights out time to tell a story. These stories are called hargaot, the Hebrew word for “calming.” This word may not exactly apply to my line of storytelling. I am a Manhattan prosecutor and while the hargaot I tell are certainly fascinating and fun, they are not exactly calming.
The first time I told a crime-solving hargaah was at Camp Ramah in Canada over 20 years ago. I was helping with staff training and a counselor asked me to tell his bunk a hargaah about an interesting case on which I had worked.
Rather than simply talking about the case, I described what I learned during my visit to the crime scene and asked the kids how they would investigate the case.
Both the campers and staff got very invested in solving the crime and asked me to come back and present another case. I started getting requests from all the counselors in camp and soon was visiting a different bunk every night.
All the stories I tell are based on true cases. As campers began looking forward to hearing a new story each summer, I developed a series of cases for the different age groups. 
For older campers, the facts I present stay entirely true to the actual cases and I often bring press articles about the crimes.
For younger campers, it is important the stories be age appropriate, so sometimes I slightly alter the facts. For example, one case I do for younger campers involves a friendly bandit who is always polite when he takes people’s belongings. In truth, he was not quite that kind.
The campers’ favorite stories vary. A favorite for many involves a well-known rap artist who was the victim of a robbery. The campers seemed to really enjoy hearing a story about a celebrity.
Another favorite case also happens to be the hardest for the campers to solve. It is a case where the victim gave the police a false narrative of how he sustained his injuries.  That sends the kids off in all the wrong directions, but if they ask some thoughtful questions, they soon figure out the victim was untruthful. The case also involves toxicology reports and following a blood trail. I’m always amazed at how well the kids do.
Aside from hearing exciting stories, the campers can learn from my hargaot. The most critical lessons learned are the importance of listening carefully, not making assumptions and asking key questions.

Steve Goldstein previously worked in the office of the District Attorney of New York County. He currently works as Chief Assistant District Attorney in the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor.
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