By Elena Dufner, URJ North American Camping (NAC) Administrator
My job is primarily behind the scenes. I support various URJ Camps and Israel Programs staff to make the entire system function efficiently—payroll, communications, lay leadership management, and more. I don’t typically get to go out in the field but this weekend I visited URJ Kutz Camp for the first time, and I found a renewed sense of purpose and a connection to the people that I serve.
I admit: while I sat in the Kutz teatron, gazing across the lake on that hazy warm Shabbat evening, I was not thinking too much about the Sabbath bride. I was thinking about building contracts. In my role as camping administrator, I process a lot of building contracts. It’s sometimes easy to forget when I’m working behind the scenes that a building contract ultimately represents so much more than just a physical space at camp – a new cabin, a renovated dining hall, an outdoor chapel – but also its programmatic impact on campers. Even pouring concrete is an intentional step in our path to building Jewish identity.
That new cabin is full of new beds that will hold new campers, who will embark upon their own Jewish camp journeys. That renovated dining hall might accommodate higher quality educational programs and better quality meals. That outdoor chapel will expose campers to a range of worship and spiritual experiences that will influence lifelong engagement.
It is sacred work that we do in the camp offices.
The rest of the weekend, I saw these connections everywhere. I watched the Mitzvah Corps students working with teens with autism and witnessed, in action, URJ Camps’ commitment to serving those with special needs. I watched the infamous Kutz staff vs. participant softball game on Shabbat afternoon. I considered all of the paychecks I help the camps process – and how those paychecks, however complicated and mammoth a task, represent a generation of Jewish role models that inspire campers long after summer has ended.
On Saturday evening, the Kutz participants gathered on the basketball court, grasped hands to form a chain, and wound tightly together into a circle to celebrate Havdallah. The basketball court: it is, at its most basic level, just a slab of concrete. And yet in that moment it was transformed – by the songleaders who filled it with Jewish music, by the staff who filled it with guidance and wisdom, and by the participants, who filled it with love. Camp is special because we fill our spaces with special people.
And that is what I will be thinking about the next time a building contract crosses my desk.