The onset of summer brings many things—the end of school, vacations, warmer weather. And, of course, summer also means camp.
This Sunday I am packing up and, as I did when I was a kid, will head to sleep-away camp for a week. (I used to call is sleep-away camp. Now I call it overnight camp. I don’t know if that is a factor of time or of my change in geography.) Unlike when I was a kid, however, I am going to Jewish camp.
Camp is fun. Jewish camp is important. Each summer since they were old enough we have sent out kids to Jewish overnight camp. The immersive Jewish learning and living experience one gets at camp is unparalleled and unique—every aspect of the day is infused with Jewish practice, from blessings before and after meals to crafts done in the art room to the Hebrew names for buildings to the incorporation of Jewish values into the life of camp. And camp is one of the only all-Jewish communities the campers experience, living most of their lives as a religious and cultural minority in the towns in which they live.
But, I’ve learned, camp is not only for kids. I will be spending the week at Camp Kalsman, a Jewish summer camp in Arlington, WA operated by the Union for Reform Judaism. Camp Kalsman invites rabbis to serve as faculty during the various sessions throughout the summer and I along with a few other rabbis and educators (including Yohanna) will staff the first session of camp.
During this week we will have a variety of tasks. We will help lead worship during the week and on Shabbat with the corps of camp songleaders. We will tutor b’nai mitzvah students whose ceremonies are happening not long after the summer ends. We will lead Torah study on Shabbat and other educational programs throughout the week. And we will be onsite for any counseling or support needs for campers or staff.
I started doing this a few years ago as more and more Temple Beth Hatfiloh kids (not just my own) began attending Camp Kalsman. (We send TBH kids to Camp Solomon Schechter as well, and while I do visit, they don’t do the same “local-rabbis-as-faculty” structure.) I did it at first as a way to develop a deeper relationship with the camp, but over the years I have found it important to me as well as a rabbi. And consequently, just as I benefit from being at camp, my congregation benefits from me being at camp.
First, being at camp puts me in a different environment and a different headspace. It is like being on vacation where you don’t need to worry about your housing, your meals or your daily schedule. This in and of itself is invigorating and renewing.
Also, being at camp allows me to be creative in ways outside of the congregational setting. It allows me to teach Judaism in different, informal ways, and to think about reaching different populations. Being at camp also has served as an incubator of sorts, where I have experimented with things that I have then brought back to TBH (even if my congregants didn’t know that’s where it came from).
When I am at camp I am also engaging with other staff and faculty members, which has always been the fodder for new ideas and directions. Like being at a conference, when the most valuable times are between sessions over coffee rather than in the formal sessions themselves, downtime at camp has been a great time for conversations and learning.
And camp is also a working retreat for me as well. I have numerous projects I have in the hopper that sometimes get drawn out because in the office I am dealing with the day-to-day interactions. When I am at camp (though I am not completely off the grid and will keep up with my email, etc.) I have time to focus on various projects and even do planning for the High Holidays (!)
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to my time at camp. It has become something I look forward to each summer, just as my kids do. I benefit tremendously from my time at camp, and therefore, I hope my congregation looks forward to me going as well!