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Rabbi, Can We Talk about God? Pelted with Questions from Teen Campers

Ever have one of those moments when your child reaches out to you and all you really want to do is collapse from exhaustion? It happens at home and it happens at camp. So what do you do?

I am up here at URJ Camp Newman, the Reform movement camp in Santa Rosa, CA, leading our delegation of 42 people from Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) for Jewish summer fun. After a full fantastic day of spiritual hikes, meditation teaching, service planning and camper counseling, I was hot, tired and worn out.

Rabbi, Want to Talk about God?
Yet, no sooner did I sit down for a little quiet time when I heard someone call out, “We’re having a conversation here about God. Rabbi, do you want to join us?”

Looking up, I saw three of our young people from Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) sitting at a picnic table smiling at me.

I had just finished an intense conversation with a staff member about the slow death of her grandmother as she described being there as the last breath left her body, followed by a phone call with a dear friend who is now facing a similar situation with her mother. I was looking forward to putting my feet up. But I responded from my heart and not from my weary bones, saying “How can I turn down such a wonderful invitation like that!?”

So three of us – my wife Michelle, a faculty artist and I – joined Lisa, Matthew and Ethan for the best experience of my day.

Pelting Us with Questions
They asked so many questions, which I answered initially with “Well, what do you all think?” Only after they answered would I share my thoughts.

How many of the teens at temple do you think are really atheists? (Most, I suggested were agnostics, unsure about God, but you can be a great Jew even if you don’t believe in God.) 

How do we pray if all the prayers seem to offer only one view of what God is? (Read the prayers as poetry and then mine them as metaphors. Or supplement the traditional prayers with kavannot (spiritual interpretations) of your own. Or let’s write some prayers which speak to a spectrum of beliefs. The rabbis of old did it; you can too!) 

Do you believe in God with the white beard and the throne on high? (Once I imagined God that way, until I learned that there are so many different Jewish God ideas – I blogged about 18 Jewish God concepts – which are more in keeping with what I feel is closer to my truth. Let’s find some time later and I’ll teach you about them.)

What’s your favorite God concept? (The internet as a metaphor for God. Not a being, but an existence, a presence. The One without end is here, there and everywhere, accessible if only you open a browser – your heart or soul – and allow yourself to connect in.).

Time Flies When You’re Talking God
We lost track of time as the campers asked questions, offered answers to each other, and thought deeply about the reality of The Holy One. When their counselors came around to collect these campers, we all expressed sadness that this moment had to end. And yet, we smiled at each other, knowing that we had taken our relationships and our spiritual journeying to the next level.

“Let’s do this again!” suggested one of the campers. “Wouldn’t miss it for anything,” I responded.

Why do I Come to Camp Newman each Summer? 
Because in the midst of the long days, chance encounters quickly become deep conversations, allowing this rabbi the opportunity to elevate and nurture meaningful Jewish spirituality. I cannot wait for the next conversation.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I didn't get the opportunity to go to camp as a kid or as teen and realize just how fortunate all of these kids are as you share these experiences not only that they are privileged enough to attend a camp such as Newman but that they also have you our wonderful Rabbi Paul to share their experience with as they learn and grow. Thank you for all you do. Lucille Shalometh-Goldin COA Board of Directors

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I spent the past two weeks working at my synagogue day-camp and had a daily, hour-long session devoted to God. It is meaningful and encouraging to know that as kids get older, they still desire to engage in conversation about God. Not only that, I am excited for the opportunity to teach at Or Ami this coming year and maybe continue your conversation.

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