By Ruben Arquilevich, VP of Camps, NFTY and Immersives for Union for Reform Judaism

During my recent travels to various camps in my new role working with URJ camps, NFTY, and year-round retreats in North America, I was very moved by the ruach, or spirit, of participants, staff, faculty, parents, and community leaders who comprise the camp mishpacha, family. I noticed the smiles, laughter, and playfulness of children; how staff nurtured their campers; the variety of activities that filled each day with fun and joyful, meaningful Judaism; and the abundance of songs, cheers, blessings, prayers, art, and wisdom.

I also noticed how I was welcomed with warmth and a “Welcome Home.” Every camp posted signs that conveyed “Welcome Home,” be it on the gates as I arrived, in welcome baskets, and/or through salutations. I heard it from Camp Directors, staff, and campers. While camp’s mission and benefits have evolved over the years, with an acknowledgement today that camp is a premier path to raising future Jewish-connected generations, this concept of “Camp is Home” has risen to the top. While the idea has been around for years, it has now become a mantra, a culture that defines the gift of camp, as well as the gift of NFTY as another home for Jewish youth throughout the year.

We all have different definitions of home. It might be a physical place, a feeling, a mindset, or a soul set. Something spiritual. A community. A place where we discover and celebrate our best selves and feel unconditional love. Where diversity is celebrated. Where our Judaism shines most brightly.

As we welcome Shabbat this week, I want to take a moment to express gratitude to you, our parents, for entrusting us with your children whether it be at camp, a weekend NFTY retreat, or a month or semester in Israel. It’s during these meaningful immersive experiences where the walls of that “home” are built and fortified – by the connections made, joyful Jewish celebrations, moments of acceptance, and the memories that are made when we are together in community.

And I want to express gratitude to each and every one of our camp directors and NFTY leaders for playing a vital role in our 17 URJ camps and 19 NFTY homes nationwide. Your dedication, care, and compassion is our hallmark.

And a huge shout out to the lay leaders, professionals and supporters who sustain these homes from generation to generation.

As we prepare to reflect and begin the year anew with NFTY and camp’s year-round immersive programs, we can’t wait to welcome you into the many URJ homes that are awaiting you with open doors and open arms.