By Cantor Ross Wolman, Temple Chai – Phoenix, AZ
Evening program, before bedtime: Mechinah is holding a talent show around the campfire at Pinat T’fillah (prayer point). Eight and nine year old campers are still a bit nervous and breaking the ice on the 2nd night at camp. There are the usual acts: a cappella Taylor Swift songs, martial arts routines, a few jokes from a budding stand up comic. A precocious 3rd grader spelled the longest word in the English language: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis. As each act completes, there is a big round of applause regardless of the presentation because it’s camp. Slowly, the s’mores are passed around and the group quiets down into a feeding frenzy.
A year ago, my family moved from Chicago, IL to Phoenix, AZ and this is my first summer on faculty at Camp Newman. I was a songleader and six-time faculty member at OSRUI, a URJ camp in Wisconsin. I knew camp’s complex geography like the back of my hand. OSRUI’s songs and traditions were my songs and traditions. Today, I am with my family, in Santa Rosa, CA at Camp Newman, where traditions are different, camp layout is unfamiliar, and songs are sung so differently that I often find myself doing a musical double-take.
Malka and I have three toddlers under four. Our kids are just old enough to observe and mimic the camp’s schtick and songs. As they learned to sing Birkat Hamazon the Camp Newman way, I was longing for my camp and my traditions. However, over the past two weeks, I have seen the love of Camp Newman grow in my children’s eyes. Their love of this camp has opened my heart and reminded me that camp is camp. Our love for camp traditions nourishes us and while new camps are different, they are equally valid. As they say at URJ Camp Harlam in PA, don’t yuck my yum. While something may be foreign and unfamiliar to me, it is 100% valid and beloved by those who grew up here.
Back in the talent show, as the list of performers runs out and the campers begin to yawn, our songleader plays Sh’ma and Hashkiveinu for Siyyum, the evening ritual before we leave for cabins. Camp Newman is a stunningly beautiful place, rich with traditions and a loving community. I am grateful to have spent two weeks here with my family and I am looking forward to coming back next year.