There are those who say that when you send a child to summer camp, you present him with the time of his life. I say that when you send a child to summer camp, you provide him with an opportunity to set – or re-set – the course of his life.
We have arrived at Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, the Union for Reform Judaism’s premier Jewish summer camp in Northern California. Michelle and I are leading a delegation of 18 children (including our own three) who have chosen to transform their lives through the magic of Jewish summer camping.
Driving through the front gates on opening day, we were welcomed with a resounding chorus of “Heveynu Shalom Aleichem – We welcome you all!” sung by teen Avodaniks committed to spreading the joy of Camp Newman. Registering with the senior staff, each child is warmly welcomed by a counselor in her eidah (or unit), who sweeps her up in a warm embrace and immediately begins to introduce her to other staff and campers. Old friends reunite; new friendships begin to blossom before my eyes.
Driving through the front gates of camp offers another opportunity – to set aside, at least temporarily, the pressures and challenges of the previous eleven months. Children come to camp, relieved to let go of the pressures of school, the pain of difficult familial relationships, the nagging questions of self-worth. At camp, the athletically-challenged kid finds space to excel; the socially-uncomfortable teen suddenly discovers popularity in a crowd of well-adjusted friends. At camp, you can be who you are, or whomever you want to be. You have arrived at a place where acceptance is unconditional. No one is more welcome at Camp Newman than you!
Michelle and I spent the day checking in on our Congregation Or Ami posse. Though spread out throughout camp – from the youngest Bonim campers to the second oldest Avodanikim – these children were adjusting well and falling comfortably into the warm embrace of a healthy, nurturing Jewish environment. What could be any more wonderful than that!