By: Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg of Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto
Camp summers definitely rate among my fondest memories. In my more youthful days, as the school years’ activities wound down, I would eagerly anticipate leaving the city for the summer and heading off to camp. Those summers at Habonim Dror Camp Miriam on Vancouver Island were central in helping me connect to my Jewish identity.I discovered what it meant to live Jewishly away from the distractions of the everyday world.
As a young adult, I had the opportunity to head south to California, spending 3 summers at URJ Camp Swig- Newman. Again, this was a chance for me to explore and be in touch with my Jewish soul. In fact, it was during this time that I began to ponder a career in the Rabbinate. My last summer camp experience was in 2000. I assumed that this was my last year at camp, but I was wrong, and thank goodness!
It was such a pleasure to be return to camp last summer as faculty for URJ Camp George. I was reminded of why camp is regularly noted in Jewish surveys as central to the notion of establishing Jewish pride. I was immediately struck by the prevailing atmosphere of ‘community’. Everyone was a friend! In fact, it appeared that we were all one big extended family. Each day was jam-packed full of meaningful and fun activities, ranging from tower climbing to canoeing, from cooking to dancing. There was a unique Jewish flavour encompassed in each of these activities. My personal favorite moments involved witnessing the incredible preparation and transformation for Shabbat.
Friday began as a typical day. And then suddenly, after lunch, a unique energy took over. Campers and counselors everywhere frantically cleaned and changed into their white attire, readying themselves for Shabbat. At sunset, the campgrounds were filled with songs, with melodies of cheer and hope, greeting sacred space. The Shabbat celebration included special meals, fresh baked challah, Israeli dancing and so much more…
That evening, during services I shared with the campers and staff, we recited the Shema. “Shema means listen. What are we listening for when we recite the Shema?” I asked. I was greeted with a sea of blank stares. I thought that perhaps my question was too complicated. And then, one by one, the campers raised their hands.
“We’re listening to the birds who are chirping up above.”
“We’re listening to the song leaders who amaze us with their music.”
“We’re listening hard for God. God is all around us.”
These were indeed sensitive and smart youngsters. What a pleasure it was to connect with them. And what a blessing it was to be able to return to ‘camp’. This Rabbi has much to learn! My Jewish journey continues, and I’m so glad that it brought me to URJ Camp George. I’m already looking forward to another summer on faculty this year!