written by Elle Muhlbaum, 3rd year Rabbinic Student at HUC-JIR
Growing up, I never went to camp. I never experienced day camp, overnight camp, or really camping of any sort. Many of my Jewish friends attended URJ sleep away camps when we were kids, and most of them stayed on for at least a year or two as staff. So, even though I never experienced it for myself, I knew there was something magical about Jewish camping. In September, I’ll be starting my third year at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. So, finally, I decided that this summer it was time for me to get a taste of that magic for myself. Knowing that I wouldn’t get a chance to experience camp the way that campers do, I still wanted to contribute to the magic. What was the essence of camp that made so many Jewish kids countdown not to the end of the school year but, instead, to camp’s opening day?
Coming to Eisner, I felt as I’m sure many first-time campers do—hesitant, unsure of what to expect, and, of course, wondering if I’d be able to make friends. As many first-time Eisner campers, I arrived and was instantly immersed in the camp community and culture. Immediately, the community opened itself up to accept me. I learned the quickest path from Girls’ Side to the Chadar Ocheil and which water fountains had the coldest water (for the record, it’s the Beit Am). Readily and eagerly I found myself becoming part of the chain of Eisner tradition. I began to become so completely intertwined in the culture and history of Eisner that I would share the same stories as lifetime campers. Once I even caught myself saying, “well that’s how it’s always been here.”
As the summer progressed, I worked as the B’nei Mitzvah Tutoring Coordinator and one of the Assistant Limud directors. But the Limud department wasn’t the only one at Eisner for HUC students; in fact, a rabbinical student worked in Adventure, and a cantorial student was the Teva director! I love that at Eisner Camp people are able to utilize many different skill sets. It’s an environment that nurtures the development of leadership, public speaking skills, and connection to Judaism. It’s a place where everyone (even an assistant Limud director) can feel empowered to try something new and master a new skill. It’s a community that feels like a family, where even mistakes are embraced as a learning experience. But, most of all, Eisner is a place where people learn. Campers learn in Limud groups on the quad, in the art shack, on the low ropes course, and even on the basketball court. They learn from faculty members, their counselors, and their unit heads. But they also learn from each other. In Pirkei Avot 4:1, Ben Zoma teaches us that the wise man is one who learns from all people. At Eisner Camp, each person (camper or staff) has so much to teach and to contribute to the community, and that’s an incredible experience for everyone involved.
And so, on closing day, I packed my belongings and cleaned my living space just as so many campers and staff members have been doing for years. I took a picture from my doorway to prove I was living with the forest as my next-door neighbor. And then, like the hundred of kids who left in the morning with their excited, happy parents, I wept. I cried and cried as I hugged my new friends goodbye.
I, as an incoming 3rd year rabbinical student, have camp friends of my very own now…and I have finally experienced the magic of Jewish camping. Thanks, Eisner!