By Avram Mandell, Director of Education, Leo Baeck Temple, Los Angeles, CA
First of all the camp is called “6 Points.” It takes a Jewish object, the Star of David and renames it by giving it an English adjective to describe the object. Next it’s called a Sports Academy, not camp. Summer camp and Jews are like Jews and Chinese food on Christmas, they go together. The URJ, the Union for Reform Judaism, has decided not to call this a camp but a sports academy. The message is that they are serious about their sports . . . and they are.
What I think works the best in terms of instilling a connection to Judaism at this camp are the counselors and the Jewish coaches. From the night time “laila tov” activities to the song sessions. Seeing all of these athletes singing Dan Nichols’ “Sweet as Honey” or “Lo Alecha” is heart warming. As I mentioned before, having a 6’1″ football and basketball playing songleader put a huge grin on his face while leading 150 Jewish campers in singing Jewish songs is PRICELESS.
What also works well at this camp is Shabbat. Friday night to Saturday night feel just like any other URJ Camp. Campers dress in white, there is a special meal, there are ma’ariv and shacharit services, the electives are different but of course sports centered; it’s a great way to celebrate Shabbat.
What is less at this camp is “shiur” a class on a Jewish topic with a theme for the summer such as “The Torah and You.” The thing is though, it’s not that much less. Every coach takes time during the “sport majors” to talk about the Jewish value of the day, kids are awarded bracelets and reminded of the values and educator, rabbis and cantors are on faculty connecting with the kids and sharing unplanned moments of learning. The award ceremony at the end of each night, handing out the value bracelets is also a sweet moment that reinforces the Jewish content and creates a unique moment of pride and honor for the campers as the counselors hand out the bracelets.
What completely sold me on the camp was my walk back to my dorm tonight. On the way I was talking to a junior in college and I asked her how she heard about the camp. She told me that she Googled it and found it. She said that in high school she was so into her sports that she didn’t have time for youth group or Jewish classes but now she is ready to connect to Judaism and she thought to herself, “if I can find a Jewish sports camp” that would be the perfect fit for me. She told me that she loves learning the songs and celebrating Shabbat. Again a reminder to the Reform Movement that these camps are just as much for the counselors as they are for the kids.
I am sold on the URJ 6 Points Sports Academy and I hope to sell others on it as well.