By Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman of Congregation B’nai Tikvah, Walnut Creek, CA
Like most URJ camps, Camp Newman invites rabbis to spend up to a week with them during their different summer sessions. Guest rabbis teach, help with tefillah and electives, and generally are on hand as a rabbinic presence for the kids. So during the last week of June, armed with my tallit and a big bottle of sunscreen, I’m off to a place I never thought I’d be again.
I wonder how much has changed since my own days as a camper, and how much remains the same.
Is camp still a place that feels contained yet expansive?
Adventurous yet safe?
Where the days are jam-packed with activities, yet rest time is prioritized?
Where it’s possible to be overtaken by exhilaration, homesickness and wonder all the span of an hour?
A place that is stripped down to its essential elements, where props for a skit are fashioned out of whatever happens to be handy, technology takes a backseat and the weather can change an entire afternoon’s programming on a dime?
Where, in the words of Roger Bennet, co-author of Camp Camp, “everyone gets … a fresh start to define themselves … a second chance to be the kind of kid they always wanted to be?”
One thing we do know is that Jewish camping experiences go a long way towards creating positive memories and fostering a strong sense of Jewish identity. We need look no further than reflections from our campers themselves to see this truth born out. In their own words:
“Camp has really added to my understanding and appreciation of being Jewish. There is a sense of safety, a sense of belonging, a sense of community … that manifests itself at camp. My remarkable memories from camp have deeply shaped my Jewish identity. I have experienced numerous moments there where everything just seemed perfect and in place.”
I can’t think of better hopes for our young people than these, in any environment, in every season.