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What to Pack for Camp by a Devoted Camp Rabbi

40 years after my mom packed me up for summer camp, I contemplate the empty suitcase before me and wonder what to pack for camp. How many pairs of pants will get me through the cooler evenings? Will 20 pairs of socks suffice for those sweaty climbs up and down the hills and stairs? Will I need new white shirts for Shabbat or did last year’s survive the spin cycle?

I am preparing for two weeks on faculty at URJ Camp Newman, at our temporary Newman By the Bay site on the Cal Maritime campus in Vallejo, CA

Since I will be doing my own laundry, I can skip the mind-numbing task of writing my name in each item of clothing, but I do wonder what will help me etch my love for Judaism in the hearts of the campers and counselors.

It occurs to me that my packing list this year includes more than even my biggest suitcase can handle. It might require some extra overflow space within my head and heart.

You see, so far, I have set aside piles of:

Uncompromising non-judgmentalism
Young people want to see the world open before them. Their experimentation at camp, if safe, offers new paths to hope and promise of a better world.

Self-refreshing pioneering spirit
So I can pull myself up by my non-existent boot straps to partner with counselors in creating new experiences each session.

Radical openness to new ideas
The fun of camp blossoms when we embrace even the craziest camp concepts.

Endless enthusiasm about establishing new traditions
Like the rabbis of old, the campers of today embrace ritual and love to create new rituals. Guiding them to bridge the old and the innovative is often the most rewarding part of being at camp.

Far-reaching fascination with seeing the world through younger eyes
The prophet Joel once said, and Jewish composer Debbie Friedman once sang, “The old shall dream dreams and the youth shall see visions.” May our tired eyes strengthen as our ears hear the hope in their voices.

Overflowing optimism for life
Camp is life, the rest is just details. Contemplate that and then try to pack it in a suitcase!

Creative kavanna (intentionality) to embrace camp’s vibrant Judaism
Of the seventy languages through which God revealed Torah, one of them must have been camp-speak, that uniquely refreshing way campers talk about their love of being Jewish.

My packing list is far from comprehensive but surely it will remind me that camp is for the kids, as is my presence. I just hope I pack enough energy and enthusiasm to keep up with these inspiring counselors and campers. That way our time together may bring us all closer to the Holy Presence that dwells amongst us, especially at camp.

Camp Newman By the Bay opens soon.