Seeking inspiration, especially in these turbulent times? Visit a Jewish summer camp!
Each summer I have the good fortune to travel across North America to see the magic of camp in action. Each visit reminds me why we do what we do at the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). As soon as I enter the property, I can feel the energy of the camp and its campers and I am reenergized and awed all over again. I’m able to witness the power of the camp experience to transform individual lives, just as it happened to me many summers ago, and as I see it happening to my own kids.
The deep connection campers and counselors alike make to Israel has never been more vital – or more poignant — then during trying times of the past two weeks. With nearly 1300 Shlichim (Israeli ambassadors/ emissaries) in 200 camps – both overnight and day camps – the Shlichim are part of the fabric of Jewish camp across North America. They are an integral part of the camp community and of each camp’s educational mission, enhancing the Israel and Jewish education that takes place. We feel a particularly close kinship with the Shlichim and all of the emotions they must be experiencing.
In the midst of this week’s escalation of tension, I hope none of us will forget the lessons of the week before. Throughout our 155 camps, campers and staff were mourning the loss of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar — may their memories be for a blessing. These boys, the same ages as the campers and young staff members, unified our entire community in a truly powerful way. Each camp confronted this tragedy in its own unique way, coming together as communities, talking and praying together, crying and singing together, all feeling similar emotions and leaning on each other. We must remind ourselves at times like this that we are all connected as a community, commemorating and memorializing these boys and praying for more peaceful days ahead.
I witnessed how Rabbi David Finkelstein, Director of Shoresh a Jewish day camp in Adamstown, MD, delicately connected campers and young staff to the tragedy with the notion of Acheinu Kol Beis Yisroel, We are all brothers in the House of Israel. The very same day, Habonim Dror Camp Moshava in Street, MD, raised the flag to half-mast during a moving and an emotional ceremony. Each camp may have approached the tragedy differently, but each did so intentionally and effectively.
As we enter the uncertainty of the next few days, I don’t want to forget my one day last week, which displays the power of camp in a nutshell in my eyes: the ability to transform lives and create meaningful connections to Judaism, one camper at a time, one counselor at a time, one community at a time while also unifying our larger Jewish community as whole.