I have been married to my Canadian wife for eleven years, and so I thought I knew a lot about Canadian culture before I moved to Toronto three years ago. Politeness, good government, multiculturalism, hockey—I knew about these things. I also knew that Canadians love the outdoors, but from being on faculty at our Reform Movement’s Camp George the last two summers, I have realized that, if they could, many Canadians would live in a canoe all summer.
For the last two summers I have had the pleasure of spending an amazing week of “re-Jew-vination” as faculty at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp George, and I will go this week for the pleasure again. Rabbis Splansky and Helfman also go every year. We get to interact with campers and mentor counselors, but the most important thing that happened at George is that I reconfirmed my belief that Jewish overnight summer camp is an essential tool in fostering Jewish identity in our children. Jewish sociologists have long been telling us that kids who have a positive camp experience are more engaged with their Judaism and continue to lead Jewish lives in their adulthood.
The secret to camp is that it is a holistic Jewish culture. At camp, Jewish life isn’t something one does in their free time. At camp, Jewish life is all the time. Praying, Hebrew, Jewish study, and Shabbat are as normal as hiking, swimming, canoeing and arts and crafts. At a Jewish camp, hiking, swimming, and arts and crafts are Jewish. At camp, our children are surrounded by other Jews having positive Jewish experiences 24/7. At camp, our children form relationships with positive Jewish role models in their counselors and often have the opportunities to interact with rabbis and Jewish educators in less formal settings. As our member Suzie Lyon has written:
I remember my own summers at Reform Jewish summer camps better than almost anything else at that time of my life. [Camp] gave me a safe place, allowed me to explore my emotions and spirituality, taught me the true meaning of friendship, and helped me understand what respect for our world and the people in it (including self-respect) was all about. The rabbis and counselors took me seriously, believed in me, listened to me, appreciated my passion for causes, and, overall, nurtured my soul.
The Jewish camp that I attended as a kid in Missouri taught me to pray with passion. Being on staff at a Jewish camp in California helped develop my leadership and teaching skills that propelled me towards rabbinical school. Being on faculty as a rabbi at three different camps give me great hope. And now, being the father of a first time camper (my older son is staying in a cabin for the first time this summer) is filling me with pride. (I also have to admit that I am a little bit nervous, but I know he will love it.)
Supporting Jewish camping is making an investment in the Jewish future. There are many excellent Jewish camps that we should support. As a part of the Union for Reform Judaism, Holy Blossom Temple gives you the opportunity to monetarily support Camp George when you fill out our membership forms.
Stay tuned for pictures from camp. Maybe I will catch the Canadian obsession for canoes.