26 July 2019
This week, my daughter returned home from overnight, Jewish summer camp. For those with pre-teens and teenagers in the house, you know what a whirlwind of energy and excitement (and exhaustion and laundry) their return from camp can be. I am looking forward to hearing my daughter’s stories and about what an amazing time she had with friends old and new.
What always stands out to me about my children’s camp experiences is how much joy they bring. As someone who is often thinking about the challenges and complexities of Jewish life and the obstacles we still have to overcome, it is nice to be reminded about how truly joyful Jewish life can be.
If I think back, I can easily access some gleeful camp memories of my own. I am a proud Jewish camp alum, as are my parents. I know from personal experience—and from the accounts of many in our community—what a powerful impact camp can have on someone’s identity and sense of belonging in the community and in the world.
I think part of the magic of Jewish summer camp stems from its ability to help young people feel simultaneously free and closely linked to and supported by those around them.
On the one hand, teenagers who are hungry for a sense of independence get a few weeks each summer to break away from parents and teachers and explore who they are on their own. They get to express their personality, make friends, and live life away from the pressures and responsibilities of the school year.
At the same time, each and every camper is an integral part of a special, tightknit community. For some, camp is where kids and young adults of all backgrounds and abilities finally feel accepted. We know that the bonds campers form in those few weeks over the summer can often last a lifetime.
Of course, these transcendent experiences are all supported within a Jewish context. In so many ways, camp is where the abstract concepts of Jewish life become real and approachable. It is where young Jews get to discover and live Jewish values, and become in tune with the wonderful rhythm of creative and immersive Jewish traditions. It is also where young Jews internalize a profound sense of Jewish peoplehood. I can still recall how special it was to sing Hebrew songs, learn Israeli folk dances, and participate in Jewish rituals knowing the ties that each had to the Jewish people around the world and over time.
We often speak about how we can help the next generation connect with Jewish life. I think a big piece of this has to be about joy and about helping young people feel part of a greater whole. We are all the heirs of a rich heritage of wisdom, traditions, and values. We are also all the architects of what is to come. The more we can help each other to embrace the gifts that come with Jewish identity, the stronger our community and our future will be.
It looks like I will be signing my daughter up for the summer of 2020 as soon as possible.