Jewish camp is magical. The amazing thing is that camp is magical for each camper and staff member in different ways. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), shared his story during the Crane Lake and Eisner Camp Stakeholder’s Shabbat.
Rabbi Jacobs began, “As I attended religious school at temple each week, I was convinced that my Hebrew name was Sheket.” The audience erupted in laughter realizing that sheket is the Hebrew command for ‘Be quiet!’
Rabbi Jacobs continued, “Every time a teacher would look at me I would hear that word, sheket!” It was clear that Rabbi Jacobs’ religious school experience was not positive. (Yes, we experience religious school to be quite different these days, thanks to our dedicated and gifted Jewish Educators!) In religious school, Rabbi Jacobs remembered being scolded for being a distraction, a symptom of not being engaged and interested. But, when he went to URJ Camp Swig for the first time, no one said sheket. Jewish camp was a place where he could express himself freely. Camp was different than a formal classroom where students often sat and listened. Rabbi Jacobs explained, “At camp, we did not just hear about prayer, we experienced it in a dynamic environment and we crafted our own services and prayers with our bunkmates.”
Camp is magical because it is a safe and holy place that encourages us to express and explore ourselves openly and confidently. It’s the place where we, so to speak, have permission to be loud in every way…
Jewish camp is the place where it is comfortable not just to raise our voices, but to speak, shout, and sing with ruach (a strong sense of spirit). At camp there is a song, cheer or dance for everything – for washing our hands, for eating certain desserts, for learning on the Quad, even for saying the word ‘a.n.n.o.u.n.c.e.m.e.n.t.s.’ And for that one there’s even an obligatory pie in the face. (Trust me, I learned the hard way. I hear I was lucky not to be thrown into the lake!) View some pictures of this memorable experience here!
Camp is not only the place where it is comfortable to express emotions, but it is acceptable to express them outwardly. My favorite song comes on the loud speaker at lunch so I stand up and dance. Others soon join in. An evening service reminds a camper of the grandparent they just lost, so they reach for my hand. At camp, feelings help us make connections between each other.
Camp is not only a place to engage in fun activities, but it is a place to go out of our comfort zone and try things that we’d never do otherwise. Who knows, maybe we’ll discover a new passion and return home with new skills. I was tickled to see campers who typically don’t enjoy sports sign up for the Zumba and exercise chug (special interest activity) or kids who have never been on stage take on a roll in the unit production. Each one of us has unique experiences, thoughts, opinions, and feelings to share. So, why not express them in a new way in the pool, on the court, in the dance or fine arts studio, on the ropes course, or a nature hike?
And finally, camp is not only a place to learn about Judaism, but it is a place to live it! With every action and in every moment at camp, we enact our Jewish values, we make Jewish choices, and we live on Jewish time. I enjoyed teaching two active courses to teens while at camp. Each one gave us a way to engage in things we love while doing them in Jewish ways. Who would have thought that teens would willingly participate in a fitness test with sprints, push-ups and burpees on the lawn during a 90 degree day? It is much more meaningful and fun to have a wall squat contest with your best friends while considering why Judaism considers our bodies to be sacred vessels!
Of course, being ‘loud’ and expressive in these ways is most fun and meaningful in the company of others. At camp we learn to be ourselves while building positive relationships that last a lifetime. Almost every camper and staff member will tell you that relationships formed at camp are different than at school. At camp we learn the true meaning of community and the sense of feeling at home among a group of people who become our extended family. This is the magic of Jewish camp.
So why, then, was I able to get in my car at the end of the session and drive home? Well, I know just how much our TBE staff and leadership understand the power of Jewish camping. And I know that it is our vision to create much of this same magic within our TBE community in the upcoming year. I can’t wait to hear about your summer away from home and I can’t wait to share the year with you!