Extra! Extra! This week’s article comes to you directly from the Union for Reform Judaism’s Crane Lake Camp (http://cranelake.urjcamps.org/), in West Stockbridge, MA!
I am lucky enough to be spending two weeks here as faculty, which means that I get to teach Jewish topics, in creative ways, to all ages and units. Crane Lake is a sister camp to URJ’s Eisner Camp, also here in the Berkshires. There are currently thirteen summer camps in the URJ family (http://www.urjcamps.org/camps/), all of which provide significant Jewish experiences to our students for varying lengths of time. Some programs focus more on sports, some on arts, some on Hebrew, etc. All are life-altering, superb opportunities for today’s youth to form, wrestle with, and solidify their personal Jewish identities.
As a faculty member, I have the privilege of joining other adults who treasure the Jewish camp experience, and who work hard to sustain the programs. Rabbis, cantors, and educators from around the country take two weeks off during their summers to serve at their nearest regional URJ camp. Other adults work the entire summer (or even the entire year) in many capacities to develop meaningful programming, beautiful camp grounds, and strong, inspirational staff. Together, we get to “let our hair down,” literally and figuratively, while we are here – we wear t-shirts and shorts (a rabbi in t-shirts and shorts?!?!), we don’t have to wear makeup, we can be silly, sing, dance, and help exemplify the ruach – the spirit – of camp.
In case you thought that perhaps I was the only crazy rabbi who loved camp, I will share with you a sampling of wisdom from a few of my like-minded colleagues. Rabbi Larry Freedman, of Temple Beth Jacob, Newburgh, NY, in his third summer as camp faculty, sent both of his sons to URJ camps, and he wanted to be sure that he was also “walking the walk” when it came to supporting the camp and its mission. It was one thing to encourage his congregants to send their children to camp; it was another to physically show its importance by spending his time and energy here.
Rabbi Emma Gottlieb, of Temple Beth Israel, Plattsburgh, NY, is in her first year as faculty. “As someone who grew up at URJ camps, it is great to be able to give back. Being here also brings back wonderful memories of my own years as a camper. I now have the ability to pass that love on to the next generation.” Rabbi Gottlieb especially enjoys watching the campers experiment with different ideas of what it means to be Jewish, and how each person can live Jewishly. Campers are invited to wrestle with their personal God concept, to try on different rituals (kippot, tefillin, fasting on Tisha B’Av), to read from Torah on Shabbat, and to live out Jewish values throughout the day.
Crane Lake’s Limmud (Learning) Specialist, Lauren Chizner, MAJE, MAJCS, is spending four weeks here as senior staff. I asked her why she sets the time aside to be here, in the midst of her busy life back home on Long Island. “It’s a little like Shabbat – being at camp forces me to stop, and then it reenergizes me. I go home each year refreshed and recharged.” Lauren pointed out that, just as the campers learn that camp is a special place to just be themselves, where there is no pressure, and that they are not made fun of for being who they are, she feels that adults who come here are able to feel the same safety and comfort here. Jews of all ages are here, together, with the common goal of learning, living, and playing against the backdrop of Judaism, Jewish teachings, and Jewish living.
Finally, I spoke to Rebecca Schwartz (http://www.rebeccasongs.com), Crane Lake’s Songleading Director. In her seventh year as senior staff, Rebecca first started working here so that she could enable her children to experience the joys of Jewish camping. Crane Lake, one of the newest camps in the URJ family, has worked hard to build its own unique Jewish culture, and music is an integral part of that culture. During her years here, Rebecca noted, “it was amazing to watch Crane Lake transition from a camp that didn’t sing Jewish songs to one that LOVES to sing Jewish songs.” She celebrates the way that music brings the entire camp together – in song, in prayer, in spirit, and in joy – and is part of the reason that camp feels so good.
Camp feels good – for kids, for adults, for everyone who chooses to spend time here. We treasure camp because it reminds us that it feels good to be Jewish, and that being Jewish can be fun. I am grateful to all who work diligently to provide this experience for our youth, and I am proud to count myself among their ranks. Happy Summer to all!!
Rabbi Marci N. Bellows serves as rabbi of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh, NY. A graduate of Brandeis University, she was ordained by Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 2004