By Jan Marion
URJ North American Board Member & GFC Representative
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
In early August, my husband Brad and I had the opportunity to travel with several lay leaders and professional URJ staff on the NAC Caravan, visiting four URJ camps in three days! The NAC is the committee of lay leaders providing direction and governance for all 13 URJ Camp and Israel Programs. This whirlwind trip afforded me the chance to not only observe our Movement’s camps in action, but also to experience the warmth and ruach that permeates throughout.
Our visits to Camps Harlam, Kutz, Crane Lakes, and Eisner were all basically the same: informative tours of the facilities, warm greetings from the Camp Directors and staff, shared meals in dining facilities, participation in Services, and honest conversations about needs and visions for the future. Some observations that pertain to all the camps:
- No matter where the camp is located, the campers are all the same – Jewish, active, prayerful, and engaged.
- Despite different topography and settings, each camp provides a wonderful unique Jewish and safe environment for all its campers.
- All camps provide opportunities for young people to “explore” their Judaism and then to “live” it.
- Across the board, all staff is exceptional, caring, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic.
- Our Movement should take proud in the way our Camping system carries its yoke of responsibility for each camper with care, seriousness, and success.
Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the trip was the opportunity to observe campers interacting with each other, campers interacting with staff, and staff interacting with each other. I also had the opportunity to interact with campers and ask them about their experiences at camp. Some of my favorite responses:
“Camp is where I can be with people who understand me.”
“This is a place where I can just be Jewish.”
“It’s community, family – home.”
“Camp is a place were I can be with my friends.”
“It’s a place where I learn from my Big Sister and hope to be just like her when I grow up.”
A few standout observations “seen” with my heart:
- An obvious hyper-active male campers having great difficulty sitting in Services being beautifully comforted, held, and encouraged by his male counselor enabling him to stay engaged.
- Not just female campers, but male campers, as well, walking arm-in-arm around camp.
- A child with physical challenges being encouraged and supported by her peers.
- Pure laughter, joy, and enthusiasm exhibited by campers.
- Young campers sitting on the laps of older, Big Brother/Sister campers.
- Campers greeting us “visitors” and welcoming us to their camp with great pride.
Perhaps the most lasting observations, for me, are these latter mentioned ones, because they are as referenced by Saint Exupery, “felt with the heart.” I can state with great confidence and pride that our URJ Camps are creating “those most beautiful things.”