The Best Tool for Jewish Living and Learning
by Rabbi Eric Siroka
Reform Jewish summer camping has something for everyone. From Judaica and sports to aquatics and hiking to nature and the arts, the programs offered at the URJ camps provide the opportunity for every one of our children to be enriched and flourish in a safe, nurturing, inclusive environment in which they can expand and express their Jewish identity.
I am privileged once again to serve on faculty for Tiferet at OSRUI. Tiferet, the arts unit, is one of the unique programs offered by camp (along with Chalutzim – the Hebrew immersion session and Tour L’Agam – a biking tour around Lake Michigan, both for entering 10th – 12th graders). For 20 years now, Tiferet has enabled artistic Jewish youngsters to engage such creative areas as music, dance, drama, media and visual arts to explore topics and texts from our sacred tradition. As the campers use their talents to breathe innovative and improvisational life into their work, so too do these young Jews draw rich, long-lasting meaning from the experiences they share.
This session, our theme is Midrash Rabbah, for which we are using the great Jewish process of midrash (interpretation and investigation) to address the stories from Genesis. In four studios – dance, drama, music and visual arts (which serve as the campers’ “major” for the session), we have tackled diverse and important ideas such as: the conflicts in Abraham’s life; the voices that are “missing” from the narratives; Jacob’s ladder and his subsequent wrestling match with God/angel/himself; and Joseph’s journey from young dreamer to dream interpreter whose wit saves all from treacherous famine (and these were just last week!). We have taken our texts and pulled them apart to search their meaning for the values they teach. More so, we have used these teaching to inspire acting, movement, lyrics, notes and design. Tiferet is blessed to be guided by absolutely gifted moomchim (specialists) whose professional talents are matched by their care for the students, along with fabulous staff of dedicated madrichim (counselors).
I have long believed that summer camp is the very best tool for Jewish living and learning that our Reform Movement sponsors. I was fortunate to have the chance to grow up in the Reform camp community, which gave me the gifts of confidence in myself and passion for progressive Judaism. As a camper, staff member, and now faculty, I have witnessed the power of camp in cultivating caring, committed, knowledgeable Jews. More so, camp allows each child, each adult, the opportunity to live up to his or her promise as b’tzelem elohim – being fashioned in the Divine image. Each of our children deserves this opportunity, one that camping provides like nowhere else.
Like every worthy endeavor, Reform Jewish camping needs our ongoing support: send your children (and grandchildren) to our camps; ask your congregation how it participates in maintaining these programs; contribute to the camper scholarship fund at your synagogue or one of the URJ camps; be an advocate for camp by promoting its possibilities for every Jewish child.
Camp has something for everyone. I hope you will join me in continuing to sustain this vital cause.
Rabbi Eric J. Siroka is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El in South Bend, IN.