Like most young Jewish Americans, I have spent the past few weeks packing and preparing for summer camp. All over the country, the excitement is spreading.
My family has experienced both participating and staffing three different Union for Reform Judaism camps, each with its own flavor and culture. Yet, one very important detail permeates all three: they are training grounds for the creating of the best and brightest that Judaism has to offer.
All too often, the future of organized Judaism is filled with doom and gloom. Analysts or anyone with a blog has commented about how far fewer teens are getting involved in Jewish activities. There have been countless efforts to make things more enticing, more exciting, more active for teens to get involved in Jewish activities.
It seems as though summer camp has been a hug part of the visioning for future engagement. With one summer away at a URJ summer camp, any teenager has the ability to learn who they are in a way that will totally alter their Jewish experience.
Jewish camping allows participants to test their limits. A boy with a deathly fear of crowds receives a guitar and finds his voice. A girl who has struggled to make friends in school goes home with dozens of new relationships. A group of twenty comes together in a way that none of them thought possible a mere 4 weeks prior. Anyone who has ever gone to a Jewish summer camp knows what it is like to go back to school in August and feel the need to explain themselves to all of their school friends. “It’s a camp thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
Jewish camping allows participants to network. I have, throughout my first two years of college, faced the possibility of getting stranded in an airport. No matter what city I’m in, I know that there is someone out there that I can call who would be willing to give me a couch to sleep on and a meal to eat. Without camp, that would have been impossible. I’m just two short years out of high school, yet there are far fewer friends from my school time that I would care to call than from my time at summer camp.
Jewish camping allows participants to grow. From the very first moment a young person steps onto camp, there are a collection of role models walking around. It doesn’t take much searching to find someone to emulate, someone to respect. Growing through the system, those same children who looked up to their counselors one day becomes the leader for the next group of young Jews. We have a phrase for that. It’s generational leadership. As someone who has experienced camp since I was 10, I know what it is like to see those unattainable goals, those incredible men and women who are the best people I know, and to grow up hoping to be that cool one day. It isn’t until someone thanks you for inspiring them that you realize that you have just past down the greatest gift that camp can offer.
As I get older, camp becomes a more difficult decision. Internships beckon. Job opportunities abound. The urge to advance one’s career presses sometimes suffocating. But nothing in the whole world prepares you for the adventure that is the “real world” quite like summer camp.
If you aren’t already, investigate signing up for camp. It may seem daunting or foreign, but within moments, you will know that it is the place where you belong.
If you are already signed up, get ready. Because the summer of 2013 is gearing up to be the best one yet.