Camp Appreciation Shabbat at Shaaray Tefila, NYC
by Hope Chernak
Director of Youth and Informal Education at Temple Shaaray Tefila, New York, NY
My first summer at one of the URJ Camps wasthe summer of 1994. I was hired to workwith the youngest age group called Bonim(3rd and 4th graders). While I had prior camp counselor experience from working at a day camp, this summer was going to my first summer at a sleep awaycamp.I can still remember the drive upto URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Georgia. The road was bumpy, the trees were big, and once I made it down the long driveway, there it was – the view of the lake as it glistened from the sun, with the large mountains as the backdrop to frame to my picture.
That summer changed my life forever. I decided that I wanted to pursue a career working with youth, met some of my closest friends who are still part of my life today, learned how to combine my love of playing guitar with songs to become a song leader and found my personal spiritual connection to Judaism. My personal connection from Jewish camping is only a small hint of the transformation experienced by the campers that I worked with that summer. I know first hand the incredible influence that our Reform summer camps have had on my campers’development as Jews.
Love of Jewish summer camping is an integral part of the senior staff team at Temple Shaaray Tefila. At any point during the year, our camp memories find a way to be expressed during our programs,meetings, and casual conversations with congregants in the hallways.Four years ago, we instituted a specialceremony for our students going away for the summer. We invite students withtheir families to attend our summer send-off during Shabbat. During this service, our clergy invite the students to the bima to offer a special blessing to all of our students attendingcamp and any of the NFTY summer programs and NFTY in Israel trips. As a way to connect to our students and toshare our love of camp to the entire community, our clergy also share their owncamp memories as part of the sermon. Our Shabbat worship includes camp melodies and we offer our community a fun and festive oneg for children of all ages!
As you prepare for your summer journey, we wish you:
Find joy and fun around every corner,
Overcome a challenge,
Learn a new song, talent, craft, or sport,
Connect with people around you through tears and laughter of all kinds,
Learn something new about yourself that you never knew before,
Fall in love,
Connect with old friends and make new ones,
Stay up late whispering and giggling with your bunkmates,
Enjoy the unique smell of campfires and s’mores,
Find quiet moments alone,
Create inside jokes that you will remember all year,
Be safe, happy, and healthy,
And may you do all of this with Jewish hands, hearts, and souls.
Students, we invite you to join us in the following prayer for the joy of play:
Baruch Yotzer haguf v’cheesh’rono, shenata b’tocheinu simchat ha-mis-chak.
Praised be the Creator of the body and its skills, who has implanted within us the joy of play.
*This prayer was created in 2009 by Hope Chernak and Rabbi Marci Bellows. The Hebrew was taken from a prayer on page 32 of On the Doorposts of Your House.
Before the students leave the bima, our Rabbi Stein hands them a Shaaray Tefila t’filah hadaerech card. As a way tostay connected to our students over the summer, we offer a special gift from our Youth Department to thestudents.In years past, we have givenout special passport holders to the students going on a NFTY in Israel trip, and for our campers: t-shirts, journals, water bottles, and carabineers with a compass. This year we have a special “I love Camp” pillowcase for our students to take with them to camp.Our main mission is for our students to realize that camp is an extension of their congregation and home Jewish community.
It’s always a highlight of the service when our students share their own personal stories of camp and the impact it has had on their lives. Bernie Birnbaum, a URJ Eisner Camp alum, age 15, said:
“For me camp is a place to cut loose and completely be myself. There I am free from the stresses of home. Everything about Eisner makes it great. Shabbat at Eisner really exemplifies the experience best. Starting with Friday afternoon, the mood of the entire camp shifts. Beginning with the two hour shower time, everyone has an added sense of festivity and excitement that is even greater than the normal camp atmosphere. Shabbat dinner is a time to eat with any and all of your friends. Younger units inter mingle with older units, boys can sit with girls, councilors can sit with the friends they don’t get to see very often. Services are led by a single unit which spends a few hours preparing throughout the week. The leaders sing, dance, and read writings that they wrote. The entire camp prays together to fun melodies, some of which were in fact written by my dad’s Eisner friends. From here camp moves into the most exciting part of the night: Song Session. The song leaders stand on a stage in the middle of a sea of jumping teenagers. We sing and jump with as much ruach as we can possibly muster. The energy is indescribable.
Shabbat is topped off by havdalah services which are really beautiful and make me wish the next Shabbat would come as soon as possible. Shabbat at Eisner is an experience unlike any other and I look forward to the summer of 2012 when I will return as a counselor and continue the tradition. I would strongly encourage any kids younger than myself to sign up for a summer at Eisner Camp. Just those few short weeks are a life changing experience that has given me a lifetime of memories I will never let go of. Shabbat Shalom.”
Suggestions to share the love of campand stay connected to your students:
- Spend two weeks on faculty at one of our URJ Camps!
- Send postcards and notes from the youth department and clergy to the students.
- Send special summer care packages (we even sent a package to Vietnam last summer!) and use your youth committee members to help “stuff” them.
- Ask your clergy and education staff members to post photos to the temple newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter for those serving on faculty at camp. Also ask them to write up an article or blog post about their summer experiences.
- Invite students in the fall to a “camp appreciation” Shabbat to share summer memories.
- Have a “camp appreciation” Shabbat in the fall for your congregation.
- Host a Shabbat dinner (or a pro-neg) in the fall for all the families and students that are connected to our URJ camps.
- Ask students to write about their summer experiences and post their articles onthe web, Facebook, temple newsletter, or include as a reading during a Shabbat service.
- Have a special song session with camp music after a Shabbat Service during the oneg.
Shaarey Tefila Senior Staff Camp “Role Call”
Rabbi Jonathan Stein: Attend URJ Camp Coleman in 1964 for the National Institute, URJ Kutz Camp in 1965 (first year it opened) for NFTY Institute, URJ Camp Harlam as a youth grouper/NFTY Pennsylvania Region (called then PAFTY) camper for 2 summers. Rabbi Stein also worked at Harlam on PAFTY summer institute for 2 summers, served on staff at UCI (now URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute, otherwise known as GUCI) for 3 summers as assistant camp director, served on faculty at GUCI and NFTY Ohio Valley (called then OVFTY) summer institute for 15 summers, served on faculty at URJ Camp Swig for two years and served on faculty at URJ Camp Newman for one year.
Rabbi Deborah A. Hirsch: Attended URJ OSRUI when it was called Olin Sang. The “Ruby” name was added a couple of years after she started. She attended from 1966-68 and returned for Torah session in 1969. Throughout high school she returned each year for youth group kallot. Although never on faculty at OSRUI, she served on rabbinic faculty at the URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps and at the URJ Kutz Camp. Rabbi Hirsch also set ex-officio on Eisner/Crane Lake Camp commission. She has brought numerous students and families on weekend retreats at Eisner and Kutz over the years. URJ camps shaped and transformed Rabbi Hirsch’s Judaism and her Jewish identity.
Rabbi Joshua Strom: Served as President of his temple youth group as a junior and senior in high school and attended nearly every regional conclave of NFTY-PAR (Pennsylvania Area Region) from 1994-1998. Attended URJ Camp Harlam as a camper from 1988-95, went with Harlam on NFTY in Israel in 1996, and was a CIT and staff member for six summers between 1997 and 2004. He then spent the summers of 2005 and ’06 as Rosh Eidah (unit head) for Chalutzim, the 7-week Hebrew immersion program for rising 10th graders at URJ Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). Rabbi Strom has served as faculty at URJ Crane Lake Camp and hopes to continue next summer.
Cantor Todd Kipnis: Attended USY (United Synagogue Youth) events and conventions and attended USY’s 9 day encampment.
Mindy Davids, R.J.E.: Attended URJ Olin Sang Ruby (OSRUI) for 5 years as a camper and Kutz Camp for 2 years as a camper. Mindy also worked at URJ Henry S. Jacobs for 5 years on staff and URJ Camp Newman for 7 years on faculty.
Sari Luck Schneider (Early Childhood Director): As an active member of her youth group she attended Chalutzim at Olin Sang Union Institute when it was called that in 1967. She went to Israel on the NFTY-EIE international exchange program from June 1968- January 1969. She also served at URJ Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute as the secretary of Chalutzim in 1969 and in 1970 as a counselor for Tzofim.
Hope Chernak: As a high school student, she served as Programming Vice President of her temple youth group in Orlando, Florida and attend regional events of NFTY-SER. She worked at URJ Camp Coleman for 8 straight summers and served on faculty at the URJ Kutz Camp for 6 summers as a faculty member teaching and leading the NFTY programs. Also, Hope was a summer group leader for two NFTY in Israel Summer trips (1998 & 2009). Currently Hope spends two weeks each summer at the URJ Crane Lake Camp faculty team.