I am up here at our URJ Camp Harlam for my usual two weeks in the summer and I have to tell you that this has been the busiest summer ever. All in a good way, too!
First, a word of thank you to the congregation. I could not be up here serving as your rabbi – even though I am not physically in NJ – if you did not see the value of the Jewish camping experience. Your support of our youth and the many facets of Jewish education, including camping, is manifest on the playing field, in the dining hall, and in our study sessions. Your moral and financial support of our camping and youth programs (through the Berg Fund, Spector Fund and Pess Fund) translates those dollars into children burning with Jewish pride and knowledge.
I have seen all of our camp children but, I have to tell you honestly, they are always running and moving that it is hard (even for me!) to keep up. They are all healthy and their smiles go on forever. They have all integrated well into their bunks and they are part of the unit in every way. In other words, they are having the times of their lives.
As for me, I am doing formal teaching and informal teaching. Formal teaching includes prepared shiurim for my unit or an organized activity where I (or my faculty partner) is leading it. For example, this week my partner and I prepared a 2 part session about how a Reform Jew can use Jewish law to make decisions based on a new and relevant understand of an ancient text. And informal teaching can happen anywhere and anytime. Let me tell you what happened yesterday.
I am in the unit of 12 year olds and yesterday some kids on that unit were climbing the tower. This is a terrific activity and one, by the way, that I will never do since I am not really a big fan of heights. Anyway I wanted to be with the kids and there was a young girl sitting there writing in her journal. I asked her if everything was okay and she said ‘yes’ and I asked if I could sit down. I did and then found out that she is writing a short story for part of the unit worship service tonight. She said she was stuck about one particular part and she and I talked about it. (FYI, it was about the idea of the Shma and how we need to listen carefully.) Our talk evolved into discussion about prayer, God, community and sharing. And somewhere in all that, the magic of camp happened: Another camper saw us talking and joined us (he had already conquered the tower!) and he joined the discussion. A few minutes later, another one and another one and another one until I looked up and there were 10 engaged children talking and being listened to, struggling with issues of prayer and community. It was a beautiful hour which was completely unplanned and which, I am told, profoundly affected the campers’ insight into worship and faith. It was, for me, one of those moments for which I live as a teacher when I know that I have touched lives in a meaningful Jewish way.
What about the food? The food this year is the best camp food I have ever had. Who ever heard of good food at camp? Until recently, probably no one. But this year it is terrific! Just in case you were wondering whether or not I am getting enough to eat and not withering away! I hope to offer another blog entry from Harlam in a couple of days. Until then, shalom!