By Lauren Luskey
Lauren just began her position at Temple Israel in Memphis, TN as Director of Congregational Learning. She is originally from Midland, Texas and has been involved in URJ camping for almost two decades! This past week marked her first visit to Jacobs.
I sit in the Chadar Ochel, having just bussed my dishes. Kids are talking, cheering, and banging on tables, waiting to recite the Birkat Hamazon and to see what skit the Israelis will perform after lunch. And while I am only a visitor observing from the outside, I can’t think of a place I would rather be. Some things never change.
I have never been to Jacobs before, but I already know the songs, the prayers, and even many of the Maccabiah cheers. For the past 20 summers, I have attended five URJ Camps. (Sixteen of those were spent at Greene Family Camp in Texas.) I was the camper playing Gaga, the counselor dressed in Red as a Maccabiah captain, and even the education director leading Shabbat morning services.
While each camp has many similar activities, programs, and traditions, Jacobs is a truly unique place. The camp culture is rich with spirit and shtick. Counselors perform skits after every meal (my personal favorite was the Scooby-Doo themed letter day skit during Maccabiah). These traditions not only help to build a community among campers, but they infuse Jewish learning and values into everyday activities – a Jewish educator’s dream.
Many of the campers come from small towns in the South, much like the one where I grew up in Texas. For campers like me, these three weeks during the summer are the one place where they can truly experience Jewish life, and for some, it is the most Jewish learning they will have all year.
After dinner one night, I sat down with a Maskilim camper named Jake to tutor him for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. Jake is from a small town outside of Jackson, where he is one of the only Jewish kids in town. He and I talked for a few minutes about his day, and then got to work. Although he is in the beginning stages of learning to read the Shema and V’ahavta, he knew almost every word, much to his surprise. Because Jake attends services at camp almost every evening, he has simply internalized the words of the prayer, which has made reading Hebrew so much easier. His huge smile, and his invitation for me to come back next summer to see him and help him with his Hebrew, made my week.
From Bruceville, Texas, to Warwick New York, to Arlington, Washington, to Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, and yes…to Utica, Mississippi, our URJ camps continue to work their Jewish magic. And even with the 100 degree heat and intense humidity (and that’s just before breakfast!), there is something truly special happening at Jacobs Camp. I’m already counting down the days until I can return next summer!