Avram Infeld talks about a five-legged table in which Judaism should be placed on top of. Each leg is a different aspect of life that a Jew must accept in order to truly be a Jew, and religion is not one of them. The leg that I want to discuss, and which can be observed most strongly at camp, is mishpacha, or family. I am defining this term to be equivalent to community, or kehillah.
A tradition that we have at my camp is after the second Havdallah of the session, the entire camp goes down to the lake and every person puts a floating candle into the water. As the candle floats away, we each make our own wish. Standing at the top of the hill looking down at the lake, it is a beautiful sight to be seen – campers crying because departure day is incredibly close, staff comforting the campers and telling them they can come back next year, and the floating candles in the lake. After talking to many campers, one wish remained consistent throughout the camp – the wish that their friends would come back next year.
Our director, Randy Colman made a short speech after all of the candles had been placed in the water. It was the kind of speech that thanked everyone for their hard work throughout the session. But, for about two minutes, Randy turned his attention to the candles. The statement he made that rang true in my mind was “We are like these candles, and the lake is camp. We were individually placed here, but when everyone got here, we became a real community. We were drawn towards each other and then we never separated, just like the candles.” This is something that I think is important to remember about camp – the campers are thrown together for twelve days and then leave with memories and friends to last a lifetime. This is why I think camp is so special.
A Jewish community really forms and becomes strong when people leave their comfort zones and try something new. Whether that means going to temple functions, such as catered dinners or chavurah groups, or going to camp, the only way a community can form is through effort. At camp, the effort is provided by the counselors, staff, and the living situation. Making friends becomes organic. No one is forced to communicate, but because of the close living quarters, the tireless efforts of the counselors, and the incredible programming that the upper staff provides, bonds become covalent. Friendships are forged much more deeply and last for years and years.
Jewish education is not just about the history of our people. Yes, that is an important element, but the values and morals of being Jewish are what a child needs in order to truly love and understand what it means to be a Jew. The education is only a part of it. The life skills are the aspect that is overlooked and avoided in religious school. But at camp, the life skills and the education can be taught. Camp is where the true education happens – the multifaceted education of how to be a Jew.