Between Us: Let’s talk about what really matters

Between Us

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of visiting Capital Camps & Retreat Center (CCRC), located only an hour north of Rockville in Waynesboro, PA. It was a beautiful summer day, made that much more magical by the sounds of hundreds of children laughing, running, learning and of course, eating in the cafeteria. The camp was a hub of activity – I saw Rabbi Adam Raskin visiting with kids from Congregation Har Shalom, spoke with Israeli soldiers participating in a Friends of the IDF program and met a new Jewish summer camp director from New Hampshire shadowing Capital Camps CEO Jonah Geller.

I was invited by Jonah and Rabbi Miriam Burg, Director of Jewish Life to teach in their guest series for the Capital Camps Institute for Leadership & Learning (CCI). I met with first and second year Fellows, all college students (most of whom have been going to CCRC for 10 years or more) working at CCRC as counselors and learning leadership skills . The topic was, “How would you define responsible citizenship?'” Using Jewish texts, we discussed the covenantal relationship between citizens and their communities, exploring both our rights and our responsibilities. I thoroughly enjoyed my two study sessions with these bright, eloquent and committed young adults who are having such a positive impact on the campers.

I was also asked to give a 5-minute “TED Talk” to the entire camp. Now, I give hundreds of speeches per year in my role at Federation and am very comfortable doing so. But, I must admit that getting up in front of 650 children was a bit nerve-wracking! I was asked to speak on, “If I could teach you only one thing today, what would it be and why?”

I chose to tell the campers about a commencement speech I saw on YouTube. Given this past May by James Ryan, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the speech is called “Essential Questions.” I urge you to watch. Ryan gave his graduating class the gift of five questions they should consider asking for the rest of their lives. I thought the speech was brilliant and told the campers that the one thing I want to teach them is that asking the right questions can be even more important than the answers. Here are the five: “Wait, what?” is at the root of all understanding; “I wonder?” is at the heart of all curiosity; “Couldn’t we at least?” is the beginning of all progress; “How can I help?” is at the base of all good relationships and “What really matters?” gets you to the heart of life.

Federation is proud to call Capital Camps & Retreat Center a partner agency. The CCRC staff, volunteers and board members are working together to build “local and global Jewish leaders” (as the sign says on the way into camp). Summer camp, along with day schools and Israel travel experiences have all proven to build strong, lasting and rich Jewish identities. Judging from what I saw this week, it is also helping to shape the campers into kind, thoughtful individuals and responsible citizens of our community.

Isn’t that what really matters?