A Camp HASC model for Jewish Unity

Camp HASC is a seven-week summer program for children and adults with mental and physical challenges – “a place where lives are changed and miracles happen!” While during the year many of our children and adults feel isolated, at camp everything becomes available to them and most see larger amounts of growth and achievement during these seven weeks than they do during an entire year’s rehab and therapy.  Whether one learns to take his or her first steps or to sit properly through a meal without throwing its contents all over the floor, at camp each individual is made to feel that he or she can achieve and can have a brighter tomorrow.

Camp HASC is a model for unity. It is an environment in which differences only serve to enrich our atmosphere. At camp, no challenge is too large and no issue too insignificant to be given the highest amount of care and enthusiasm. We come to Camp HASC to grow together, not just to better ourselves as individuals. But perhaps most importantly, we do not do chessed at camp; chessed in an act of kindness one bestows unto another. It is a relationship of giver and receiver. Chessed takes place when a benevolent individual engages in kindness beyond his normative expectation, when he does more for the other than what is expected of him. At camp, we live together, both giving to each other and learning more about ourselves from the other. And because there are no expectations of a fixed normality, no standards to judge against, the campers and staff are all able to devote their efforts to constantly bettering themselves. We build relationships, not of power, but of love – the understanding that each member can and deserves to transcend the limits others have set before them and actualize their not-yet-realized G-dly potential.

In reality, Camp HASC is not just a summer sleep-away camp, nor just a beyond-successful organization – it is a family, and the very definition of family entails that everyone fits even when logic dictates otherwise. A family is not a unit comprised of identical individuals, but rather a system of differences in which each member complements the other and in completing the whole. A family supports one another in good times and those less so. A family encourages one another when they know the other can do better and be more. Each member comes into this world differently, at a different time, and with different capacities and potentials, but only within the family do those differences dissolve.

The Jewish people are a similar entity, a unique family. We are a nation of individuals who has been called upon to unite as a people. We each possess a unique nature and bring a different perspective to the whole, but our entire existence becomes faulty should even one person be missing or one individual excluded. What unites us as a people is not our external self, the challenges that seem to be a part of each of us, but rather the common root-soul that we each share that allows us to overcome those challenges together.

At camp, one thing that continues to remain a mystery is the unbelievably high level of simcha, of happiness, that shines wherever one looks. It is the type of happiness that positively radiates throughout camp, at all hours of the day, regardless of whether one actively seeks it out or not.  Camp is a place of potentially the most sadness, the most distress. It is an environment in which physical and mental challenges are not shy of revealing themselves in any of the facets of our campers’ daily routines.  But this is not our focus.

The mystics teach that in reality we are each a soul trapped within a body, and it is this casing that holds us back from fulfilling our dreams and aspirations, or so we think. At camp, we focus on what lies beneath this shell, on the essence of every individual – camper and staff member alike – and In doing so we see not what someone has achieved to date, but what he or she can become; we do not focus on the now, on today, but rather on tomorrow. When scientific hypotheses predict that our campers should not be able to walk, should not be able to get dressed on their own, or should not be able to talk, we tell science otherwise. We push our campers, not because we are demanding, but because we know that they have a hidden potential, a spark of G-d within, waiting to be actualized and illuminate the world around them. We achieve because we believe in each person’s ability to transcend physical limitations by tapping into and actualizing their root-soul’s potential.

Likewise, Jewish unity is not a chessed. It is not a nice thing that we should all work towards; it is essential for our existence because it completes our nation’s fragmented soul. Judaism is not a competition in which we aim to amass the largest amounts of mitzvos or compare our relationship with our Maker to that of our friend’s. Jewish unity is an underlying part of who we are because we each share the same root-soul, the same essence. But unity is only possible when we focus on what unites us as opposed to that which divides. When we look at externals, the physical differences and challenges that exist amongst us, unity is impossible. For unity to exist, we must venture below the surface, at the root-soul that we each share a fragment of. We come to camp as individuals, but leave as one family. Perhaps, we don’t really leave at all.

Individuals pass on, but family remains throughout eternity – each member and each generation adding a new chapter to its history. We each bring with us a skill, a talent, but those qualities only matter when we use them as a family, when we use them to help our collective whole achieve its utmost completeness. Camp HASC exists – no, it thrives – because we all make it happen on a continual basis.

Unity takes effort. It is a gradual process of tiny steps that occurs over the course of time. At camp, our miracles may not happen on the first attempt, but those small and persistent attempts are each equally important segments of our larger achievement. By the same token, Jewish unity will not occur through a random one-time act, but rather manifest itself in a process of collective growth and effort. It is a journey of ahava, of love, in which each tiny action, each detail, leaves an imprint on the soul that brings us closer together fragment by fragment. Just as Camp HASC succeeds only because of the tiny steps we take each day towards our dreams, Jewish unity will only be achievable when we begin the journey of ahava together.

We come to camp with a dream, a potential waiting to be actualized, and we leave having come that much closer to achieving it. Jewish unity too is a dream – it has been the dream of Jewish history from its very inception – and it is now our turn, and our time, to transform that dream from a potential into a reality!

About the Author
Jonah Simcha Chaim is a full-time MSW student at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He draws inspiration from a variety of Jewish and secular sources and uses both to see the G-dliness amidst the mundane. He is passionate about inspiring Jewish unity and helping others see how much they can achieve by realizing that they are part of something much larger than themselves.
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