Soon I trade my shoes in for sandals and my briefcase in for a backpack. Pants are replaced by shorts; a baseball cap I place of my kippah. The change in clothing reflects a change in the location of my work from the synagogue in Calabasas to a summer camp in Santa Rosa. While my outer garments are significantly more relaxed than my regular temple clothes, they do not indicate a more relaxed few weeks for me. Rather the change in clothing just makes it easier to “get down and dirty” with the 350+ young people who attend and the 150 college students who lead the camp.
At camp I lead multiple three session series of outdoor activities – entitled OMG WTF (Oh My God, Where’s Thy Faith). These sessions, held under the blue sky on the hilltops of Sonoma, guide 8th and 9th graders to encounter the Holy One. Together they meet such Jewish thinkers as Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel; in small groups they plan and lead t’filah (worship services). Our Torat Chayim bunk activity provides us with a chance to wrestle with the challenging messages of the weekly Torah portion. As significantly, it offers the young people with a chance to ask their most burning questions to a patient rabbi who cares. We mentor college student counselors and graduate school Rashim (unit heads) as they nurture young Jews. And we refresh our own souls.
For the last 16 summers, my wife Michelle November and I have traveled to Camp Newman, the Union for Reform Judaism’s summer camp in Santa Rosa, CA. There, we chaperone our synagogue’s delegation of 45 youth and adults.
We go because Congregation Or Ami highly values the Jewish summer camp experience, recognizing camp as one of the most significant Jewish enculturation and identity building modalities, second only to an active Jewish home. We go because we were shaped as Jews by the URJ summer camps – Michelle at Camp Swig and me at Kutz Camp. We go because camp is part of a quartet of Jewish influences which nurtured our four children: camp, Israel, Jewish day/high schools, and our synagogue Congregation Or Ami.
For many people, summer is about relaxing. For us, our children, our congregation, and the delegation we chaperone, summer is a time for engaging Jewishly, searching deeply for our spiritual path, and for rejuvenating our souls.
Come back to my blog for more updates from URJ Camp Newman.