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Bringing Summer Camp Home

As much as I love the summer, I know that my best summers are behind me. I look forward to time at the pool, trips to the beach, and time outside with family and friends. But, as excited as I am, it is nowhere near as excited as I was when I was looking forward to summer camp.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I was not this excited about my first summer away. At some point in the fall, my parents signed me up for two weeks at RSY-Netzer’s (Reform Synagogue Youth) Shemesh summer camp. I don’t recall being excited at the time, but I know that on the night before camp, I was anything but excited. I was terrified, I was crying, and I was adamant that I did not want to go to camp. As I think back to that night, I feel very guilty over what I put my parents through.

The first couple of days of camp were not great, and I was ready to come home. But something happened after those first two days, and I was hooked. I had a fantastic summer, went back for winter camp in December, and then spent the next 11 summers as a participant and leader at the camp and on their Israel trip.

I know that many of the kids in our synagogue have been counting down the days until summer camp for some months now. With my Bnei Mitzvah students I know that I can ask them how many days until camp, and they will have an immediate answer, waiting and yearning to be back at the place they love.

I’ve had some great summers since those days, but there is something incomparable about the camp experience. As a Rabbi, I try and spend at least one week of the summer on the faculty of one of our Reform summer camps. It’s great to be a part of the team, but if I’m honest, I always break commandment number ten of our “Top Ten” as I am envious of the experience that participants and leaders in their teens and early twenties are having.

The crucial question is – “What is so special about summer camp?” For me, summer camp was a place that allowed me to do things I was not able to do the rest of the year. Among the highlights – I got to be a Jedi Knight and I lip synced as part of a boy band. Most importantly, I made friends who are still my closest people today. The magic of summer camp is that it creates an environment that is open, nurturing, challenging, and inspiring.

The question is – “How can we bring that summer camp experience into the rest of the year?” When speaking with some of our kids, it seems they live forty-five weeks of the year waiting for the seven weeks of camp. Ideally, we would find a way to take some of this camp experience into the year. We do this very effectively with our POWTY program for our teenagers, creating that camp environment within the synagogue. But what about the adults in the community, what programs and events could we introduce to recreate the magic of camp for members of all ages?

I hope that the synagogue provides an open, nurturing, challenging, and inspiring environment for all of the members and I would hope that people do make friends here who will stay with them for a lifetime. But how can we make it feel more like camp?

Later this month we have our service that feels the most like camp, when we celebrate Shabbat on the lawn on June 10th; as always it is accompanied by a barbecue, and this year we have Nefesh Mountain (a Jewish bluegrass band) performing. I hope that our happiness group is providing something of the camp environment by creating an inspiring community to spread and share happiness. And our Theater group allowed people the opportunity to fulfill dramatic ambitions in the same way that summer camp often does. There are of course other programs doing similar camp-style work; but we could always do more, and so if you have ideas for new programs to bring the magic of camp into the synagogue please do let us know. And I hope that everyone has a joyful summer.

About Rabbi Danny

Rabbi Danny
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