J-Life: An Opportunity for Constant Teaching of Values, and Fun Too!

by: Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler

As I begin my two weeks on faculty here at Camp Harlam I am excited, optimistic, and curious to see how the new vision for Jewish life is emerging.  Coming up to camp I knew that we had moved from Shiur, the programed period for Jewish education, to J-Life rotations in the Garden, Israel education, Israeli Scouts and Teva (nature).  I knew that we had a vision for camp faculty; Rabbis, Cantors and Educators, to spread out all over camp and help staff ensure that Jewish life is seeping through camp. What I did not know is what would actually happen when I arrived at camp.

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This morning I participated in a limmud (learning) session with Gesher (the counselors in training).  The session was on how to write a program.  We asked our leaders-in-training to not only write a program, but to do so in a specific place, with a specific object, and a specific Jewish value; our very own game of Camp Clue.  These leaders of NFTY and camp did this task with grace and skill.  Teaching about Israel’s water shortage through relay races for 10 year olds and teaching about decision-making and self-esteem for tweens were just two examples.  I am not sure that I could have made something so much fun and taught a Jewish value as well.  In reflecting with the Assistant Unit head after the program she said, “It’s because they started with the value.”  It was still the same camp program but it had a strong educational message, even if the kids were not spending the majority of their time in that program on the message.

This led me to wonder if we would be comfortable saying that every activity in camp should be infused with a Jewish value, is every moment in the day a place where we should be teaching Judaism or helping kids grow?  Or do we want some things to be just purely for the fun?  I posed this question to the assistant unit head who said to me, “Well isn’t everything an opportunity to teach Judaism?  Isn’t that camp’s goal, to infuse Judaism into every aspect of Jewish life?”

As I walked, I thought about the question more.  As a parent, a rabbi and an educator, is it even possible to just have fun if you are not growing or being challenged or being exposed to something new or someone new?  Isn’t this what our kids mean when they say, “I’m bored.”  Why would we want anything less for our kids then the chance to spend the summer with hundreds of opportunities to learn about themselves through the wisdom that has carried our people throughout the generations?

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So can’t we just have fun – of course we can, but having fun and being Jewish aren’t exclusive – I would argue that living a life according to the Jewish tradition allows you to have more fun – because you are growing, and reflecting, appreciating and acknowledging everything that you are doing along the way.

So will this new form of J-Life work?  Based on my observations so far – it is already helping us do more to achieve our goals of being an institute for living Judaism.

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