By Jordan Lurie
As an 18 year old I can’t honestly say that Social Action has been a big part of my. Growing up upper-middle class, almost completely isolated from those in need does not exactly build perspective of the troubles of the world around you, outside of what you see on the evening news. That being the case, I can safely say I was completely apathetic to the social problems of the world up until I was fifteen years old. It was the summer of 2008 and I was getting ready to enter my last year as a Chavurah camper at Camp Harlam, and it was also the summer I learned how to stop being a spoiled little kid and to be responsible for others. That June, on my father’s 50th birthday, he was hit by a car while on a business trip to Chicago. He came home a few days later with a broken leg. Suddenly the entire family was now responsible for the well-being of our patriarch and I was put into a position I was not familiar with at all. My father’s injury didn’t prevent me from going back to camp. But I did enter Harlam in a bad mood that year. It was the first year that I wasn’t homesick because I wanted to go home, but homesick because I felt like I needed to go home. I was fifteen and angry in a place that felt like home for six years. So I did what any fifteen year old does when their angry, I moped and I whined and I brooded until someone would offer sympathy. I could always find that “someone” who would listen to my problems at camp, whether it be a staff member or a bunkmate, but not this year. That was the year I learned that not only are there times when one must be responsible for others but that as we get older, we are sometimes the only ones responsible for ourselves.
There’s a wise old saying by Hillel that goes “if I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for me, then what will I be?” I had always relied on others to give me support without ever really giving it out in return. I realized I was living the exact opposite of that phrase. Getting older not only means you are responsible for your own well being, but with the necessary resources, you can also be responsible for others. Camp Harlam showed me that as a Chavurah camper, by leading programs focused on re-greening the camp and being role models for the younger units. This was not a role I fell into easily. I had a tendency towards laziness and misanthropy in my younger years. But then there was a program in which the oldest campers were paired up with the younger campers for a day of activities. My partner seemed even more miserable than I was. I spent the entire day trying to make him happy by going above and beyond what I was capable of as an older brother type figure. I eventually pulled it off and we had a great day together. It was a bittersweet feeling, I had accomplished something great but I had also sacrificed a part of myself. Responsibility meant growing up, and growing up meant letting go of Harlam as a camper, which was a very important time in my life. But after seeing the great strides the URJ is making, I can plainly see that sometimes, responsibility can be shared at an earlier age.
Things at the URJ have changed in the past decade; I was a pre-teen at Harlam during a time in which environmentalism and social action were not the national issues they are presented as today. In the past year, our country has been hit with tornadoes that have ravaged the Midwest, and Japan has been devastated by a massive earthquake. Not to mention the ongoing conflict in Israel that has no end in sight. The URJ is aware of these issues, but are also aware that it can be hard to convince kids that are not directly affected by these tragedies to care about them. That’s why it’s very exciting to see the big push of environmentalism and social action evidenced by the blogs this year. Greene family camp has introduced a superhero named Sustainability Man that shows the campers power in recycling. That’s a huge departure from the camp superheroes of my time that would simply teach us the odd Hebrew phrase here and there after lunch while we all were just waiting for rest hour. In addition, OSRUI has posted an article on their blog about a garden they are focusing on growing this year and Kutz has an entire major devoted to environmentalism. Meanwhile, Mitzah Corps of the South has spent a large amount of time and energy rebuilding the town of Birmingham, Alabama that was hit by a tornado earlier this year. From the small things to the larger things, raising awareness is always a positive thing at any age. Three years ago, I learned that responsibility is not an inherent trait and that one instance of tragedy could open my eyes to a whole world of it, if only someone would help me see. That “someone” was the same “someone” that would listen to my problems and help me through them. That someone was the URJ. And through that kindness and trust I was finally ready to listen to and help others with their own problems. I’m glad to see that the legacy of kindness leading into responsibility is still continuing to grow today.