It was the summer of 1985 and I was never at sleep away camp before. I was a fifteen year old at Kutz Camp when I was inspired. After losing my father that summer, I was comforted by good, kind, decent counselors, rabbis, and educators. They inspired me by “being there” for me. Simply “showing up” for a shy kid that they didn’t know so well changed everything for me.
Being at camp that summer started my journey into Jewish camping, youth work, Jewish communal work and eventually the rabbinate. So I guess it worked out OK since Ira Schweitzer, my synagogue’s director of youth activities and the religious school, sent me to camp to learn how to songlead. (I worked it off for him after I returned by teaching music in the Sunday school.)
I first understood what a Jewish community looked like at camp. I found God for the first time at camp. I also found my own voice as an emerging youth leader at camp. But it wasn’t only a summer of self discovery. It was my first encounter with real mentors. I found rabbis that were devoted to teens — Rabbi Alan Smith, Rabbi Ramie Arian, Rabbi Stuart Geller — just to name a few. They were the first ones to personally guide me on my Jewish journey; they invested their time, energy and so much more in me and helped me to learn how to invest in myself.
And now, 26 years later, I am at another camp, watching my own daughters have similar experiences of growth, mentorship, and fellowship. I celebrate how this camp, URJ Camp Coleman, is investing similarly into these two girls who are only 11 and 12. They are not only having fun, but learning for themselves about community, Jewish life, Israel, and sacred responsibilities (to God and to one another). I can’t even begin to explain that kind of joy that gives me.
Not every Jewish camper becomes a rabbi (although since I have been teaching here at Coleman this summer, Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Tampa, Rabbi Lauren Cohn of Atlanta, and I were all Kutz Camp participants in the summer of ’85!). But Jewish camping is clear to transform a young person’s life through a web of Jewish memories and experiences. Even more significant than that, is provides for us so many tools for Jewish living that ground us well beyond our childhood and teen years.
Thank you Kutz Camp for helping to shape my life. Thank you Camp Coleman for doing the same for my daughters (the third daughter will start next year!). Thank you, whomever you are, for your support for Jewish camping by reading this blog, sharing it with others, supporting Jewish camps’ scholarship programs to enable another generation of campers to experience it, and by scrimping and saving to send your own child or grandchild. All of these acts help us to “show up” for others and invest in our Jewish future.
For my congregants, if you are interested in sending your child next summer to a Jewish camp, please check out my list of my favorite Jewish summer experiences. I would be glad to help you find a good fit.
Hope you all have a wonderful, renewing summer.