One Time, at Jewish Summer Camp…
by Rabbi Laura Novak Winer
We just returned home after two very full and fulfilling weeks at URJ Camp Newman. We had time with camp friends, old and new, we enjoyed camp food (really!), we hiked and sang and prayed and talked and sang some more. I had all good intentions of blogging while at camp. I clearly didn’t succeed. I hope to share more about our experiences this summer in future posts. Here’s one to start.
It is hard to explain to adults outside of our usual circle of friends what it is like to give two weeks of our lives each year to volunteer at a Jewish summer camp. It’s kind of like that line from the American Pie movies, “…one time at band camp…” They just don’t get it.
Now that I am home, I have been reflecting on what I really like about being at camp each summer. Here’s my top 7 list, in no particular order.
- Waking up with a different Jewish song in my head each day: It seemed like more often than not this summer I awoke with a song or two in my head. The most persistent melodies were
- A beautiful Oseh Shalom written by Elana Jagoda, “May the one, may the one who brings peace, bring peace down, bring peace down.”
- A cute little ditty that the kids were singing at Kibbutz Yarok (affectionately called OKY) about love and sunshine that goes like this: “Deep inside my heart I’ve got this everlasting love. It’s shining like the sun. It radiates on everyone. And the more that give, the more I’ve got to give. It’s the way that I live. It’s what I’m living for.” Since I can’t sing, you can Google the lyrics and find some silly videos of really granola-looking people singing it. Beware though, the tune is infectious.
- The politeness and appreciation of our kids. Our children are their best selves while at camp. They say please and thank you. They aren’t rude or mean to each other. They don’t pass judgement. They fill each other’s buckets rather than empty them. They make space for the rabbi to cut in front of them in the buffet line for lunch because she needs to get to another program on time. They are appreciative of all the staff and faculty are doing for them. They feel pure joy and that translates into gratitude and appreciation for the gifts Jewish camp has to offer them.
- It’s all right to cry. It’s all right to laugh. It’s all right to be still and quiet. Camp is a place in which we can feel the sadness, joy, exaltation, pain, stillness that a moment brings. No matter what the emotion, everyone knows that s/he will be met with support, love, care and concern rather than with judgement, dismay and dismissal.
- Family. We are a family at summer camp. We return each summer with the same friends. We pick up where we left off, catch up on the year’s trials and tribulations. We take care of each other. We boost each other up enough to carry that love and support throughout the year, until next summer.
- Deep conversations. At camp you can have those deep and meaningful conversations that don’t seem to happen out in the “real” world. The great thing about these conversations is that they are usually spontaneous. They aren’t part of a preplanned educational program, and some of them aren’t even with the campers. My time this summer included some amazing conversations about what Judaism says real love looks like, what the concept of chosenness means to me, and even about Jewish and Christian theology. (This last one was with a fellow rabbi… don’t worry, we aren’t teaching Christian theology at Jewish summer camp.) Camp is a place where we can ask those BIG questions and explore the role Judaism plays in our lives.
- Quiet. Without the white noise of traffic, reruns of Law and Order SVU, or the phone ringing, I hear my inner voice. It can be so quiet (except in the chadar ocher – dining hall– when the kids are singing along to Katy Perry while cleaning up their tables). I come to appreciate that silence and the space it gives me to sit and just think, instead of constantly running and doing.
- Not getting enough sleep. I’m usually an in-bed-by-10 type of person. At camp, that all gets thrown out the window. (And sometimes its hard to get back into the routine, as evidenced by the fact that it is after 11 p.m. and I’m still awake.) Camp is about staying up late talking with good friends, singing around the camp fire or while hanging out in the cabin, laughing together and enjoying each other’s company .
What I love most about our time at Jewish summer camp is that I know that many, many of our kids are having these same experiences. They are laughing and crying, learning about themselves and about those around them, exploring the world and Judaism, talking and singing, listening to the silence and to their inner voices, and developing lasting relationships that make friends into family.
I am grateful that I get to return each year and reap those benefits as well.
Rabbi Laura Novak Winer is a Reform Rabbi & Jewish educator who cares about teens and young adults. She is a wife, mother, yogini, and lover of good food and good wine who strives to live by the words of Rabbi Tarfon, ” It is not our duty to complete the work but we are not free to abstain from doing it.”
Originally posted at Rabbi Laura