One quickly becomes enamored with Shabbat at URJ Camp Newman. The energy, excitement and spirituality are overpowering. On Friday night, a sea of campers and staff, dressed in white, greets the Sabbath bride with endless waves of singing, energetic dancing and continuous hugging. The tefillah (prayer services) weaves a spiritual tapestry of traditional prayers, inspirational kid-friendly music and timeless Torah teachings delivered through an engaging story. Counselors stretching tallitot over the heads of their campers, creating a sukat shalom (shelter of peace) as we sing Hashkiveinu (a prayer of peace). Later, candles, Kiddush and motzi lead us into an especially delicious traditional chicken dinner. (Note on what’s memorable to kids: my son anticipates his return to camp by counting down the weeks until he can eat Camp Newman’s “extra delicious” Shabbat roast chicken dinner!)
Lazy day breakfast – sleep late and then come on in whenever you wake (unless you are in the cabin with the youngest Bonim campers who still rise at an ungodly 6:00 am) – sets the tone for Shabbat morning, while tefillah by eidah (unit) ensures that each group of children experience an age-appropriate spiritual experience and Torah learning experience. We anticipate camp’s traditional miznon (snack) of Its It ice cream cookies. Soon swimming and schmoozing give way to an evening of eidah songs and cheers, a concert by beloved Jewish songster Dan Nichols, and uplifting Havdala services. Yes, Shabbat at camp is framed by Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat services, Saturday morning Shacharit services and Saturday evening Havdala.
Still, I find that the late Friday song and dance session truly captures the ruach (spirit) of Shabbat at camp. Take 450 children, staff and faculty. Crowd them together under an open-air tent. Surround them with almost a dozen talented guitar-play songleaders singing their favorite Jewish songs. Let this group sing, dance, wander around, laugh and play. Circles form for a song. They jump and sing. New circles form; conga lines collect stragglers.
It’s a Jewish rave. Except no one is drunk. No one is doing drugs. They are just “high on Judaism!”
I have 3 children. Since being a kid means being filled with energy, needing to run and dance and make noise, I am thrilled that they are doing up here at camp. Jewish kids singing Jewish songs in a safe, nurturing Jewish environment. And watching my wife and our friends dance around freely with them is an added bonus!