Called to Create a CARE-ing CommunityPosted on June 8th, 2017
By Rabbi Erin Mason, Camp Director, URJ Camp Newman
What follows is an excerpt of the remarks that Rabbi Erin Mason gave upon receiving the Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education on May 17, 2017. Established in January 2001, Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education recognize and honor educators offering pre-collegiate programs in Jewish education who have made an extraordinary impact on the youth of our community.
When I was 10-years-old, I won a scholarship from my home synagogue to attend camp. Each year, four children were chosen to attend Jewish summer camp at no cost to their families. I came home hooked, promptly informing my mom of the names of the sessions I would be attending, all the way up through going to Israel with NFTY in high school and becoming a counselor. This was the beginning of my journey in Jewish camping.
Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that Judaism is a religion of time, not space. We base our lives around the Jewish calendar – holidays, life cycle events, families, and communal gatherings. It is my privilege and honor to be able to build on this and create not just holy time – when participants are at camp during the summer and year-round – but also for our community to feel that they have a sacred space that they can also call their own, that they can call home.
In Jewish education, it is important to be able to create sacred space. At camp, it means providing a space for community to form and develop into a family-like atmosphere in which campers and staff alike are able to be their best selves. The goal is not to have this feeling and the learning that takes place to exist in a bubble. We are truly successful when people are able to translate this into a passion for living Jewishly at home, for being involved in their Jewish community at home, and for them to want to connect year-round. We operate in partnership – with families, with communities, with organizations, and with congregations. We build this Jewish community together.
I feel called to this work – as a rabbi, as an educator, as a camp director. This is my passion. At Camp Newman, our mission is “To Inspire a Love of Judaism.” We do so through a philosophy of C.A.R.E., an acronym that stands for:
and Each and Every One.
We create a holy community, a kehillah kedosha, where we accept people for who they are and teach them to love their neighbors as themselves. We role model for each other – campers and staff alike – finding for ourselves a teacher and making for ourselves a friend. Finally, we view each person in our community as made unique and special, and b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. We created this philosophy with our summer staff a few years ago in order to name what we do and be explicit about the Jewish values that accompany this work.
This work that we do is not easy. It is, in fact, exhausting, especially in the middle of the summer when sleep has become a valuable expendable commodity. But it is always worth it to see the campers who are crying on the final night of camp because they have made such great friends, especially when they had been consoled by their counselors for homesickness just the week before; when we see a wait list for a full-summer program for 11th and 12th graders who have decided that they want to spend their time at camp, with their Jewish friends, in their Jewish community; when staff members share how camp has impacted them beyond the gates of camp.
Our full-time team has grown to accommodate the growth of camp from summer-only to now over a dozen events during the year as well. I am truly blessed to work with people who are passionate about this work, care for each other, and are supportive of each other. I am grateful each day to work with them, alongside our talented and committed board members. Thank you for visioning together, trying new things, and continuing to grow this wonderful camp.