Living Judaism at Camp Through An Educator-Rabbi’s EyesPosted on July 5th, 2019
By Rabbi Dr. Laura Novak Winer, RJE
When I’m at camp, I feel old. In the camp universe I may even be considered ancient, having served on faculty long before some of the oldest staff were campers. Yet each summer I return because I love to contribute to and be part of the learning and living that takes place in the camp environment.
I spend most of my camp time in my “happy place,” with teens from Hagigah, our arts-focused session for rising 10th and 11th graders. These teens are often among our most seasoned campers; they love time with their friends, try every day to live as their best selves, and seek opportunities to grow and stretch emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. And like all human beings, they occasionally make poor choices and at other times, rise to the occasion, showing their true colors. To be with them during each of these moments is an honor, a responsibility I take to heart.
I strive each day to meet the teens where they are and, at the same time, open doors for them to grow and stretch. I encourage them to consider how Judaism is relevant to their lives. Together, we struggle to see how the words and teachings of our ancient texts and teachers can provide guidance for how we live today. So, we experiment with prayer. We have conversations about God, Jewish law, and Reform Judaism, and about whether or not the stories in the Torah really happened. While sometimes they may not enter the doorways I open to them, I am confident that, though they may not admit it to us altacockers (old folks), they are receiving, thinking about, and reflecting on what happens at camp.
All of our campers practice living out their Judaism in each and every part of the day. The camp milieu creates a space for them to experiment with who they are and what they believe. It is a safe space for them to learn, to make mistakes, and to soar. I see it in moments large and small.