When I registered for my first summer at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY, two years ago, I would have never imagined that today I would be serving as the North American Membership and Communications Vice President of the youth movement that changed my life.
But let’s rewind many years back when my parents enrolled me in a 10-day program, “Olim,” at the URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, MS. This was my first time at a sleep-away camp and my first Jewish summer experience – two things that were not familiar to me at all. What I didn’t know then was that a fellow camper from my cabin that summer in 2001 and I would later be housed together at my first NFTY event in 2007. We went on to become very close friends, and then serve on NFTY-Southern regional board together for two years. Although I only spent ten days at Jacobs Camp more than ten years ago, that experience was transformative in terms of my perspective on friendship and Jewish community. The simple fact that we remembered each other six years later became the foundation of our friendship. My experience showed me that once you enter the URJ Camping family, you will forever be a part of it. It’s just one more piece of the web of Jewish geography that we, the Jewish people, live in, and that I love.
My decision to go to Kutz for two consecutive summers and to be a participant in the Regional Board Leadership Track brought me to where I am today. I entered Kutz in 2009 as a self-conscious, hesitant, recently installed regional board member and I left as a confident, ready, and prepared leader for my region, my temple, and the broader community. I also met my best friends, people who I consider as close as family, and certain lifelong friends at Kutz.
Kutz is not an ordinary camp. Kutz is special because the teen participants are there because they want to be. They are there to acquire leadership skills while studying a specific interest, and they are surrounded by other teens who share the same passions. Everyone leaves Kutz as a leader. My experiences with both of my URJ camps were essential in helping me become the person I am, and the life and leadership choices I have made, and will continue to make on this sacred journey.
Taylor Lyles is the NFTY North American Membership and Communications Vice President and a freshman at the University of Miami. You can find her on Twitter at @NFTYMCVP and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NFTYMCVP.