Shabbat at Camp Harlam

It was a beautiful Shabbat service on the chapel on the hill last night.  The youngest campers, Carmel, led the service and they did a fabulous job.  It got me thinking about something, too.

Being a 9 year old and standing in front of the camp with the support of a staff or faculty member is scary stuff.  There are 700 people you are speaking in front of and, if you are not used to it, it can be pretty intimidating.  Still, every member of Carmel that had a reading part (most of the them) got up there and with big voices led the congregation.  There was even a remarkable 9 year old who led the chanting of Amidah and the Vahavta!  (Where did SHE come from?!)  It was quite amazing.

But in the question lies one of the real benefits of the Jewish camping experience.

Reform Judaism is not about the ‘Sage on the Stage’ giving divine pronouncements of what is right and wrong, how to pray or what even constitutes prayer.  Prayer and spirituality come in many forms.  When a young child speaks about their bunk, they are speaking about the importance of community.  When they share the scary stuff about growing up, they are telling us that there is a community of trust.  And when they sing with their beautiful little voices, they are telling us that, for them, Judaism is joyful.  This is a far cry from so many Jews whose experiences with Jewish education were either meaningless or, worse, frightening.

The simple truth is that Camp is life-changing.  I have seen it hundreds of times.  When a child seeks to learn more because s/he remembered a lesson someone taught or when they are given the chance to think for themselves, they flower.  I had this experience the other day when my partner and I were teaching the oldest campers, Chavurah.

In the lesson we wanted to ‘build Jewish law.’  (Yes, we walked in with our construction helmets from the TBM renovation!)  Using biblical and rabbinic texts, they started to journey to an understanding of the meaning of kashruth, the laws of kosher food.  They moved to find meaning in a new definition of kashruth that made real sense to them.  I don’t think any of them will look at a hamburger the same way.  One particular student positively glowed when she made a connection to the text and to her own observances (and new observances) of kashruth.  You should have seen her face.  It is for the moments like that that a teacher teaches.

Anyway, it is about time for breakfast so I better be on my way.  Another truth of camp is that, since there is so much walking around, if you don’t eat, you don’t walk!  I will blog later.

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