Thinking About Science, Judaism, Time Machines

July 28, 2014Margie Bogdanow

Until a few days ago, I had never thought about building a time machine. I had never thought about flying a drone. I had never thought about editing files (other than Word Documents or Excel spreadsheets) in the guts of a computer. Now, I’m thinking about all of those things.

Why am I thinking about these things now? A few days ago, my 25-year-old daughter Alyssa and I went to visit a Jewish summer camp. It’s something we’ve done a few times over the years, but this time was different. This time, we visited the Union for Reform Judaism’s newest overnight camp, URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy. Though we only spent several hours at camp, I was profoundly impacted by what we saw and experienced while there.

I’ve always believed that Judaism can and should be able to be integrated into one’s passions – that no one should have to choose between being an athlete and participating in Judaism, between being a dancer, a musician, or a scientist and integrating Judaism into their life. In yesterday’s society, that was challenging. In today’s, it is less so. Many people in the Jewish community are committed to finding ways to help young people integrate their passions with Judaism, and the opening of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy is a great example.

“Sci-Tech,” as it’s sometimes called for short, is building a community that lives out Jewish values and celebrates science. The "Periodic Table of Elements to Mensch-Making" hangs in the Chadar Ochel, the dining room. The walls are filled with posters and writings that connect Judaism and exploration. Campers learn about science and technology through hands-on activities like brewing their own dry-ice ice cream, producing their own filmd, creating Rube Goldberg machines, and so much more. It is phenomenal what, in a very short time, the pioneer staff, faculty, and campers in this inaugural summer have been able to create.

I experienced a range of feelings as I walked around the camp and watched the campers in action – particularly the girls.

I found myself a little jealous. I was jealous because it had never occurred to me to explore these things, to see science this way. If the doors were open, I didn’t notice them. My life path put me on an educational/social work track as the way to “make a difference,” “impact the next generation,” and “work toward Jewish continuity,” buzzwords I heard a lot. Now, I see there is another path to the same ideas.

There is a path for males and females where all of those Jewish goals can be achieved through a science and technology lens. It is a path where Jewish mobile apps integrate religion and technology, where DNA testing is a way to link generations of Jews, and where video games can serve as a tool for teaching children (and adults) about religion and the world.

I always thought science was kind of boring – but what I saw at Sci-Tech was nothing close to boring. It was exciting to see staff and campers engaged together in exploration. They were laughing. They were serious. They were curious. They were connecting with one another. I wished I’d had that experience growing up. I wish  there had been a place for young Jews to learn about some of the scientific mysteries of the world in a Jewish context. Who knows how such an opportunity could’ve changed our interests and influenced our futures.

That brings me back to the time machine. As I reflected on my visit, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if next summer, the campers at 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy built a time machine so those of us too old for camp could go back in time and experience it?” If that ever happens, I’ll be one of the first to register. In the meantime, though, this new gem in the Jewish summer camping system will continue to focus on the young people of today. How fortunate these children are for the opportunity.

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