by Rabbi Allie Fischman, Camp Director
Adapted from a “drash” (sermon) for Friday Shabbat services at Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco
Picture this – a child returns home from camp with a renewed enthusiasm and a sense of ownership of celebrating joyful Judaism. They’re humming tunes under their breath, wistfully wishing they could bang on your kitchen table with 50 friends while singing (maybe sing screaming?) birkat hamazon, the prayer we sing at camp after meals. Maybe they’ve been throwing in a Jewish phrase like kavod (respect) or shmirat ha’adamah (protecting the world) or tells you to stop bothering them with such tachlis (details) about cleaning their room.
Now, picture this – that child also comes home with a sharper sense of self. They understand just a little bit more about what makes them tick, how to weather difficult moments and relish the moments of goodness:
I’m not really a fan of heights, I climbed the 55 ft. tower and it just didn’t do it for me…
I LOVE music and playing ukulele, and did I tell you (of course they already told you but you love hearing it over and over) that I helped play for Shabbat Shira?! the all-camp song session on Friday night?!
I stood up in front of 60 people and did an interpretive dance for the T, I’m not afraid of speaking in front of people anymore!
We talked about God one day at camp and I really thought about what I personally believe about prayer. (My dream as Camp Rabbi!)
I could really actually simply be who I AM, my most authentic self, and people not only accept me for that but celebrate me.
These are real stories we camp directors hear EVERY year and have heard for decades about the impact of Jewish camp. I am a proud product of two URJ camps before working at Camp Newman. When I sat as a 10-year-old in a room of 500 people singing exuberantly, harmonizing, clapping to Shabbat songs, I knew two things: 1) I wanted to be a song leader and 2) I wanted to be a rabbi.
“Maybe I’ll be a camp director one day too,” said my 10-year old self, casually, to my parents after my first summer at camp.
I’m not the only one who has found their life purpose and career by attending camp…I’ve heard from nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers, outdoor education specialists, folks working with kids with special needs…an entire spectrum of careers…all people who found their passion through something they did, people they met, the things they enjoyed doing at camp.
If you’ve joined us at camp for Shabbat (check out our Summer Visitor Dates!), you’ve heard some of my Shabbat stories on Friday night before we head down for dinner, singing and dancing. One of my favorite stories to tell goes like this: a king who has EVERY kind of lavish jewel and all the riches he could ever want, tells his advisors that he yearns for something else to complete him…something that will make him happy when sad, and sad when happy.
His advisors search high and low, across the land and through every village and nook, and no one can seem to find that perfect thing. One particularly dejected advisor, while walking through a market looking glum, tells an eager vendor what he seeks for the king, “Something to make him happy when he’s sad, and sad when he’s happy.” The vendor, eyes sparkling, asks the advisor to wait for a few minutes and when he comes back, he hands him a ring with an inscription. The advisor, giddy with joy that this may actually be what the king wants and needs, races back and places the inscribed ring in the king’s hand. As soon as the king reads it, he cries. Inscribed inside the ring are the words, “Gam zeh ya’avor,” this too shall pass. The king thanks the advisor for finding the answer to what will help him find meaning in his life.
This story gets at the essence of why camp is so important. Through out our lives we’ll encounter and experience incredible highs and devastating lows. Camp empowers children to embrace the fun, silliness, goofiness, wonder, and awe that we don’t always embrace in the everyday. Camp allows kids to be independent, try new things, maybe fail at them, and be alright and move on. Camp allows young people to find their purpose in life. And camp allows kids to build resiliency, grit, and the understanding that we need to embrace the happy, and persevere through the sad, in the hopes of always remembering that Gam Zeh Ya’avor, this too shall pass.
There’s an old joke that I adapt to camp…how do you know when someone loves camp? Oh, don’t worry, they’ll tell you within the first five minutes of meeting and sing you their top five favorite cheers while you slowly back out of the room…
Why do we do this? Because Jewish camp is a magical place. And during a time when we all could use the consistent, warm embrace of our Jewish siblings, camp is a place where we can all celebrate the goodness, and count on community when we move through hard things, because again, those too shall pass and each of those pivotal moments are woven together to create our beautiful life.
Shabbat shalom, we can’t wait to see you this summer.