By Laura Seymour
This past week I attended the American Camp Association Conference in Orlando. This is a yearly “pilgrimage” for me (to the ACA, not Orlando) and every year I learn so much and get so excited about another summer at camp. There were sessions galore to choose from but this year, I went to something really different. The session was titled “Feeding the Spirits of Staff and Campers” and it was designed for Christian camps. I asked the leader before I sat down if it would be OK since I don’t run a Christian camp and, of course, she welcomed me. Our presenter talked about spirituality, something that comes up in every adult class I teach. From “Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality” by Johnson, Sasso, Roehlkenpartain, Yust (2006), this is the working definition of spirituality:
•Spirituality is part of the human creature.
•Spirituality is firmly planted in relationship and within community experiences.
•Spirituality is expressed in ethical behavior.
•Spirituality leads to growth and change.
•Spirituality needs to be nurtured in an intentional manner.
Spirituality is not about religion, but all religions offer a spiritual connection and experience. Many adult Jews search for this but our children express it naturally. Children find talking about G-d to be easy and natural, so why does it become more difficult as we get older? Spirituality is about wonder and awe — our children get it because everything is new and amazing for them. We need to step back from our busy lives and experience wonder in all parts of our lives.
The session was excellent, and of course I bought her book, which has much that can be adapted to our camps, however, it was the after-discussion that was really great! I sat with four other camp directors and we talked about our camps. The most fascinating comment, from a longtime friend who runs a YMCA camp in Texas: “We are trying to put the C back into YMCA.” The struggle to be welcoming to all meant that they were downplaying the Christian learning. It reminded me of the beginnings of Reform Judaism in Germany — they wanted to be Germans in the streets and Jewish in their homes. How can we separate who we are as individuals or as organizations? I learned a lot and shared a lot. I realized that we Jews have been doing camp for years and, as we know, camp is the perfect place to explore and develop Jewish identity for kids. We have created a camp experience that is living Judaism, not studying/praying at a specific time of day. We cannot just be Jewish at certain times to be who we are. In a session on nature at the ACA Conference, the leader told us this about nature learning and experiences: Awareness, Appreciation, Action! That fits everything that we learn and do in our lives!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.
By Laura Seymour