Just Another Busy Day at Kutz
by Jeffrey Kagan
I took this week off of work to serve as Visiting Faculty at the URJ’s Kutz Camp. While this was technically “vacation,” getting the most out of the faculty experience is only possible if you fully engage with the program, as well as create significant amounts of interaction with the camp staff and participants. Let me paint the picture of one particularly busy day as all of these components come together beautifully.
On Sunday, July 1st, my wife, Amy (who serves as Inclusion Coordinator for Kutz’s Mitzvah Corps), and I ate breakfast with our 2½-year-old. After handing Sophie off to the wonderful Kutz Kids Club team, my first task was to finish preparing for the class I was teaching all week, titled “Bang! Pow! Oy! The Jewish Values Exhibited by Superheroes.” The five-hour block focused on the various bits of Jewish symbolism found in comic books (connecting, for instance, the origin stories of Superman and Moses) and looking for the Jewish values these characters model. For example, who behaves more Jewishly: Spiderman or Batman? I believe the edge goes to Spiderman, who focuses on redemption and teshuva, rather than Batman, who relentlessly pursues justice, no matter the cost.
After teaching the class that afternoon to 20 teens from around the country, it was off to participate in a brainstorming run by NFTY’s North American Board. These five outstanding young people were taking the time to ask their peers for thoughtful l input on the 2013 NFTY Convention to be held in Los Angeles. The subject of this particular session was the types of speakers the teens wanted to see. In the process, they grappled with topics like whether we should strive for a “bigger” name (e.g., Steven Spielberg, Ellen DeGeneres, or Sandy Koufax) who might help generate the excitement needed to recruit people to register, or lesser-known folks whose powerful messages would make the event memorable for attendees.
Once that session wrapped up, I signed up to own Thursday night’s edition of the “Joys and Oys” dinner series, created to enable visiting faculty to share wisdom with the camp staff on far-ranging topics. I’ll be focusing on how to pursue youth work part-time or full-time for a lifetime.
After a little father/daughter time with Sophie, it was off to a reception for area clergy and educators who were joining us for our evening program. We shared with them what is going on in camp this summer, what we see for the future, and how we hope they will help us in bringing it all to life. Following a tour of camp to describe plans in greater detail, it was off to a quick dinner.
After that, I put the finishing touches on my content for our Beit Midrash program, which features 19 leaders holding three 18-minute discussions on topics revolving around the theme of justice. My particular topic related to the question of whether the Affordable Care Act is a reasonable and moral pursuit of justice, or a government overreach. Needless to say, the discussions were robust.
At this point, it was 10:00pm, time to meet with the other Visiting Faculty members about the evening program we were planning for Wednesday night. Since it was to fall on July 4th, our theme was “Freedom” and plans began to come together around exploring what freedom means and the responsibilities it entails. We planned to use song and dance, poetry, and even a statue out of debris to represent these concepts.
Finally, it was time for a quick meeting with Pam Schuller, NFTY-GER Youth Programs Manager and the lead for Kutz’s Digital Media major. I’m sitting in with the class this week to share some thoughts about understanding your audience, determining the right message, and using the proper medium.
Hard to believe that was just one day, but what a productive day it was! It’s likely to be a tiring, yet incredibly powerful and rejuvenating, week at the Kutz Camp. This clearly isn’t a week at the beach or at the golf course, but, when I’m done this week, I will have accomplished so much more than a great tan or a lower handicap; I’ll have touched the lives of young people who will, one day soon, take over the movement. Can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Jeffrey Kagan has been a youth worker for 17 years, recently finishing his third year at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, N.J. He is a product of the URJ camping system who now serves as a Vice Chair of the Kutz Camp Committee and is involved with RYPA, the Reform Youth Professionals’ Association.
Photo credit: Avra Bossov