Fireflies Over Kutz
It’s late in the evening on a muggy Saturday in July, long after the campers and even the other staffers have gone to sleep. There are three of us, two girls and one boy – two women and one man, really, because we are, after all, adults, although it is sometimes difficult to feel that way here, surrounded by youth and recounting our own lives.
Together, the three of us represent a broad swath of the Reform Jewish community: the always-engaged, the otherwise-engaged, the finally-engaged. She grew up at camp, the daughter of a rabbi, and went on to work there; this is only her second summer away from her summer home, and it’s evident that she misses it deeply. He is a professional musician who grew up in the Conservative Movement but has come to embrace the Reform community and vice versa. And me? Well, this is all foreign to me. It is my first time at camp, and I am subsisting solely on other people’s stories and reflections on life as engaged Jewish youth, suppressing retroactive jealousy at their involvement. “Are you even Jewish?” one of the campers asked me this morning. I laughed – would I be here if I weren’t? – but I was surprised at how much I let the question rankle me. As involved as I have become in this community, will I ever be Jewish enough? Maybe I can never really “get” it.
My two new friends and I are sitting in a small gazebo that overlooks Lake Rolyn, and all is silent except for the ducks and bullfrogs. We’re staring out over the lake reflecting in silence on our individual places in this camp, this community, when suddenly, he gasps and points into the vast darkness.
“A firefly!” he exclaims. “That’s the first one I’ve ever seen!”
Ever? We both laugh at such childlike wonder in a man of 35. “What a city thing to say,” she teases.
“What a perfectly summer camp thing to say,” I add.
He’s unphased, enamored of the little lighted bugs that flit and flicker by, can’t turn away from them.
“Should we say the Shehecheyanu?” she whispers, again with a hint of teasing. We laugh, and the moment passes – for them but not for me.
It is in this light-hearted exchange that I suddenly “get” it, that I recognize the gravity of this place, that I feel what the rest of them mean when they talk about Jewish summer camp. This is not just a place where summer memories live; this is a place where Judaism lives. It is a place so filled with faith that even in the ordinary, we still see holiness, that little bit extra.
This is a place where the everyday banal moments of life are also Jewish moments, where each experience, from the fantastic to the mundane and running the entire gamut in between, is framed in Judaism. In a small moment so full of big wonder – fireflies, of all the commonplace summer things! – we see Judaism, and it helps us fill the space with even more wonder than before.