With a brother 13 years my junior, I often felt like an only child. One summer, when I was very young, my parents sent me to overnight camp. I cried, as if on cue, every OTHER night.
My protective parents never urged me to re- turn.
As I grew older, my regret grew as I met friends who had been deeply changed by their Jewish camping experience. Now as a parent, Camp Harlam faculty member, and of course, a rabbi, I witness first hand what a blessing Jewish camp is for our youth.
Here are my top 10 reasons to send a young person to Jewish Camp:
10. Foster responsibility and independence:
At Harlam my two older children embrace ac- tivites that they fight at home. Two small ex- amples are how each camper has a role in nikayon, keeping the bunk clean and even setting up and cleaning up in the chadar ochel (dining hall). Why don’t they fight it? It is part of camp culture couched in Jewish values.
I also love how Harlam encourages camper’s independence to grow while still providing a safe and structured environment. If a child is up on the adventure course, about to take a leap of faith sliding down the zipline, there are expert staff members to guide each step and loving counselors to help build courage and encourage risk taking.
9. Give a child a chance to live life on Jewish time, learning through the lens of Jewish val- ues. At Jewish camp, Jewish learning is not something our kids experience once or twice per week; it is immersive. At Harlam, each week has an ethical theme or middah. So if a child is working on climbing the tower, or slid- ing down the zipline, the middah of Ometz Lev or courage may be the focus of discussion. Shabbat is highly anticipated by campers be- cause it is celebrated in the most joyful way, through festive foods, the wearing of white, student led prayer services, and special privi- leges for the special day.
8. Best of Judaism: At camp, counselors, Jew- ish educators, cantors, and rabbis like me strive to give the children the most joyful and experiential connection with Judaism. The programs are innovative because each talent- ed staff and faculty member brings his or her best. There are also international staff mem- bers from places such as Israel who create relationships with our children and help them to widen horizons in a very personal way.
7. Safe place to explore spirituality: Where in our world is it safe to question, to talk about one’s inner life, or even about God? Jewish summer camp. With a grant from the Jim Jo- seph Foundation Harlam also upped its inclusion game last summer with a full time inclusion specialist for students with special needs. This insures that Harlam is a safe place for children of diverse backgrounds and learning styles. The conversation about spirituality is always richer when every- one feels accepted and safe.
6. Creative Tefilah: Imagine praying in an outdoor sanctuary, the trunk of a tree the natural cradle or ark for the Torah. Each Mon- day, faculty and staff create something called Monday modalities, which is a creative (sometimes off the wall) prayer experiences for our youth. My colleague Rabbi Ellie Miller calls her play dough based service, PRAY DOUGH. My offering last summer was a service consisting only of Top 40 pop music related to the themes of the prayerbook. Can you imagine the Mi Chamocha as the Israelites’ ‘Fight Song?’
5. Jewish role modeling: Many of our students at BCRC are one of a few, if not the only Jewish student in their class at school. At Harlam, our students are not only surrounded by other Jewish kids, but the CITs, counselors and senior staff members are com- mitted young people, who have a passion for Judaism and are trained to interact as a mentor and a role model.
4. Feeling part of something larger. Linked to the point above, for many of our children, it is lonely to be Jewish. At Harlam there are hundreds of Jewish kids and many return summer after sum- mer for the feeling of connectedness they find there.
3. Rejuvenation: Jewish camp is a sanctuary from school and family life. Our kids are so programmed, so scheduled. At Jewish camp aside from the rest and special character of Shabbat, they really feel like they are at home in an atmosphere very different from their every day.
2. Friends. Harlam’s tagline: ‘Where friends become family’ is embraced both through formal and informal moments. Counse- lors work hard on the values of kehilah (community), and chaverut (friendship). Students have a chance to disconnect from technology and take the time to connect with their fellow campers. Camp friends are truly the best friends.
1. And of course, fun! The dedicated staff at these camps are working hard now in the off season, to set the stage for our chil- dren to experience camp as joyful, silly, and monumentally fun.
My two weeks on faculty last summer have left me wanting more. I hope to be returning to Camp Harlam during the camp’s second session. We have Beth Chaim students attending both Harlam day and residential camps. In addition there are many other great Jewish camps. Beth Chaim students are represented at Galil, Saginaw, Camps Airy and Louise and many others. Join us for a taste of camp at Shabbat Services on February 12, 2016 (6:00 for young children/7:30 for the wider community). Wear white for Shabbat, and join us for a camp style service featuring guest speaker Eytan Graubart, Director of Harlam Day Camp. Immedi- ately following services we will have a mini-camp fair and Oneg Shabbat featuring representatives from Harlam, Camps Airy and Louise, and Camp Galil. Will the oneg feature s’mores? You will have to come to find out!