by Stephen Weitzman
Member, URJ North American Board
Chair, URJ Special Needs Camping Committee & Congregational Schools Committee
To use a descriptive phrase that was popular when I was in college – the August 2nd – 5th NAC Caravan was quite a trip. The NAC (North American Camp Committee) is the governing body of the Union for Reform Judaism’s camping system.
For those four wonderful days I had the opportunity to witness the joy and wonderment of URJ Camping at four incredible sites – Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, PA, Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY, Joseph Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA and Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge, MA, while spending time with Paul Reichenbach, Director of Camp and Israel Programs, Lisa David, Associate Director of Camping, Miriam Chilton, Director of Business Operations, Raymond Capelouto, the then NAC Chair, Harry Levy, the current NAC Chair, and numerous other lay leaders dedicated to passing on our traditions and Reform Jewish culture through the camping experience.
Always an advocate and supporter of URJ Camping, I came away from the four days with an increased appreciation of all that our camps do.
Radiant, smiles were evident everywhere on the faces of the campers, the staff, the directors, and on the faces of those of us who were just visiting. Regardless of the condition of the bunks or the menu consisting of infamous camp food delicacies campers at each location were walking, talking, playing and smiling.
Song sessions at each camp were highly energetic and filled with ruach.
I was especially struck by the location and setting of each camp’s sanctuary or worship site. This focal point setting, replete with magnificent natural beauty, was the center of each camp’s spirituality and radiated throughout each camp like the spokes on a wheel. The worship space, whether in the Poconos, the Catskills or the Berkshires was breathtaking. Reverence and spirituality were present everywhere on camp, whether in the dining hall (no easy accomplishment) or in the sanctuary during t’filah.
I also came away from the Caravan with a new level of respect for the camp directors, Aaron Selkow (Harlam), Melissa Frey (Kutz), Louis Bordman (Eisner) and Debby Shriber (Crane Lake). Their nurturance, caring and visions are the driving force behind each camp’s success.
After talking with campers and counselors it was easy to understand how they formed bonds and friendships that will last each of them a lifetime as they are part of a very extended camp family
Campers at each camp went on and on about how their camp is the best. They also talked about how they spend 330 days a year waiting for opening day so they can be back at “home.”
Was there a negative? Yes. My body isn’t meant to sit in a car for so many hours.
Was it worth it? You bet!
To review the caravan by the numbers – it consisted of
17 Lay Leaders and Professional Staff
4 Incredible Camp Directors
4 Exceptional Staffs
3 Mountain Ranges
1 Goal – The best Reform Jewish Camping experience ever!
And with the numbers comes a new appreciation for the phrase Im Tirtzu Ein Zo Agadah. Although Theodore Herzl was speaking about a Jewish State and a return to the land, if he were writing or speaking in the mid 20th century he could just as easily have been speaking about URJ Camping.
Thanks to our lay leaders and professional staff who will it, it (URJ Camping) is no dream! For thousands upon thousands of URJ Campers the dream is the reality of a return to the dust, the dirt and the land of Kunkletown, PA, Warwick, NY, Great Barrington, MA, or West Stockbridge, MA.
Because of their efforts camp can do what camp is capable of doing – creating lifelong, active Reform Jews.
Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazayk!
Stephen Weitzman served as President of Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook, NY on three separate occasions, served as President of the URJ Greater New York Council, is currently a member of the URJ North American Board, serves as Chair of the URJ Special Needs Camping Committee and the URJ Congregational Schools Committee, and can’t wait to be back at camp again.