I had the great pleasure of spending the last Shabbat before Thanksgiving with one of our enthusiastic congregations for their annual “Camp Shabbat”. I got in my car and headed to Bloomfield, New Jersey, where I was warmly welcomed by the amazing Camp Harlam community of current and former campers who belong to Ner Tamid. I was instantly overwhelmed by the love they have for camp and their eagerness to bring the energy of a camp Shabbat to their congregation. So that is exactly what we did. Cantor Meredith Greenberg and her amazing group of songleaders, including our very own camper Nate Perlmeter, lead a beautiful service of song, dance, discussion and reflection. Reflection is where I want to leave this conversation for now. Two of our own campers wrote and read their own creative pieces about what Camp Harlam means to them. Here they are below…
From Aaron, a Camp Harlam Camper:
At camp the sense of shalom is everywhere. When I roll through the gates of camp, I feel the happiness, that I am home. It’s a place where I can be myself. We experience shalom everyday. From meaningful walks through the woods, to singing at the top of our lungs during song session. The sense of community felt is huge. Most of the experiences I have at camp rebound into my day-to-day life.
During the school year, when I am away from camp I try to look back and remember all the meaningful, silly, and crazy moments I’ve had and hope that next year will be even better.
Camp has many traditions, one of those is to pass on the sense of shalom I feel at camp, to the next generation.
and From Emily, a Camp Harlam Camper:
Two years ago, when I was 8, I asked my mom if I could go to Camp Harlam for two months. She said no… SOOO… I got angry. This year, I finally got to go to camp for a month. It was so much like I imagined it and so much different too.
Camp really helped me learn who I am, in Judaism and outside of Judaism too. At camp, I feel really close to God. Closer than I ever have – anywhere – at any other time. One reason I think my generation reacts so strongly to camp is that during the year, we are constantly on screens – TV, computers and phones. It’s hard, sometimes, to feel completely “in the moment.” But at camp, we’re far away from all of that. We have a moment to be with ourselves and with God, with nothing in between us.
So standing here, doing today’s services camp style, in white clothes, singing all the camp songs, it’s not exacly the same, but it feels like my home away from home, camp.
These two and many more folks shared their reflections on Camp Harlam and other URJ Camp and Israel programs, but it was the words of these two campers that stuck with me. As much as I was able to say about camp myself, it was them that sparked the interest of other families to ask them for more information about camp, and maybe even to sign their children up for camp this summer. It was these stories that showed everyone in attendance what camp really does.