Sending your child to a Jewish camp is an important rite of passage for most Jewish families.
The “wandering” from home must be in our blood. As I write this, over 300 campers are sleeping overnight at the J for our first Camp Chai overnight. Not only is it fun but it is a tremendous growing experience for our campers and for our staff.
Our “why” of camp is about making a positive difference in the lives of others and in ourselves. Our “what” are the crucial values necessary for life: teamwork, creativity, leadership, chesed, flexibility, initiative, responsibility, kavod, friendship, communication, collaboration, problem solving and more.
Our “how” is through all the great things we do at camp: games, dancing, swimming, overnights, Maccabiah, sports, crafts, singing, trips, outdoors, sharing and everything else. We believe this so strongly that we wear it on our shirts.
Why is camp so important? It is a place where life skills are learned and practiced. It is a place where lifelong friendships begin and grow.
It is a place where ritual and tradition are a part of everything that we do. The J is a diverse community — we have many non-Jewish participants in all the programs and activities. So what makes it Jewish? We describe camp as “a Jewish camp for children, not a camp for Jewish children.” You do not need to be Jewish to sing Jewish songs, say a blessing before and after lunch and learn Jewish values. We believe that “kavod” is lived at camp and families want their children to learn “respect” in any language.
Each week our campers choose a special Jewish value to learn about and practice. It starts with conversation — what does this value mean and how will the campers talk about the value that shows they understand.
The next step is to provide activities to practice the value and, very important, to use the words both in English and Hebrew. Last, the counselors must look at how they will know that their campers really understand and live the value.
We must remember that every value can be seen as an action and the action becomes part of who you are. However, it is so important to talk about what the value “looks like” to each age. We celebrate the understanding by giving our campers a small dog tag with the value on it in English, Hebrew and transliterated.
Listening to the dog tags jangle on your backpack keeps them in your mind all the time.
Memories are created at camp and these stay with you forever — values become part of who you are when learned and practiced. Jewish camp is the place where all of this happens every day while we are having fun.
For me, I’m just thankful that I can always go to camp.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.