Kesher Connections: Camp Never Stops Giving
by Rabbi Seth M. Limmer
Everyone goes to camp to make a connection: to friends, to their truest selves, to the spirit of a community. One of the best presents my parents ever gave me was the gift of connection I have to URJ Eisner Camp – to its people, to its beautiful grounds, to its singular ruach that has made me who I am. I started attending Eisner as a camper when I was 10 and grew up there every summer until I was part of the administrative team and graduating from college. As soon as I was ordained at HUC-JIR, I signed up to volunteer my time on faculty for the next summer, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of each of the past 12 summers I’ve been blessed to work at this incredible incubator of Jewish identity.
The connections I have seen forged at camp this summer are simply incredible. Ten year-olds explore their relationship to the middot/dimensions by which a Jewish character is measured. High school sophomores search out connections to God in nature, meditation, relationships, philosophy, and liturgy. College students continue their connection to camp by coming back and serving as positive Jewish role models for the next generation of campers. And my colleagues – cantors, educators, and rabbis –not only give back to the world of Jewish camping to which we owe so much of our development, but also deepen our friendships as we discuss everything from the newest developments in Jewish life to the most recent challenges we have overcome in communal life. Camp never stops giving.
But this year at Eisner and Crane Lake camps, a new kind of connection is being fashioned: We have introduced the Kesher program for our oldest students to help them take greater control of their Jewish learning and exploration. In the spring, campers filled out web surveys and let us know both what connections to Judaism they wanted to strengthen (to God, to tikkun alam, to Israel, to mitzvot, to ritual, and beyond) and how they wanted to deepen those relationships (through song, art, study, movement, nature, and more). In the subsequent months, 70-plus faculty members who serve the two camps got to work on planning new courses: to teach Israeli politics through drama, to explore social justice through music,to learn about emotional health through traditional texts. It was an ambitious undertaking, and one we knew would be an experiment.
And the results are in! Connections to a living Judaism are being formed in new and amazing ways. Martin Buber’s teachings are the springboard for talking about relationships with parents, friends, and the self. Mad science experiments provide metaphors for thinking about God. Newspaper editorials help teenagers define their own boundaries of acceptable debate and anti-Semitism. Learning about Jews’ involvement in the Freedom Rides, NAACP, and Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march help kids consider how their Judaism motivates their feet to pray with acts of repairing the world. Our young people are finding more ways to see not only how our heritage is relevant to their lives, but also how they can integrate Judaism into aspects of their daily lives – into every fiber of their being.
Everyone goes to camp to make a connection. Here at Eisner Camp, over at our sister Crane Lake Camp, and throughout our inspiring URJ camping system, these connections delve deeper and last longer than any other summer experience I know. I feel privileged to be able to continue my connections every summer, and now to see my own children form those powerful ties to a meaningful Reform Judaism themselves. And any sadness that I feel as I anticipate ending my season at Eisner this summer is mitigated by the fact that, in a short 50 weeks, I’ll be right back at home.
Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Yisrael of Armonk, and serves as dean of faculty for Eisner and Crane Lake camps.