For the past week I have moved to what I like to think of my northern summer office, URJ Camp George. For the past three summers I have spent a week on beautiful Maple Lake. This year the weather has been idyllic. Sun, heat, cool evenings, and a little bit of rain to keep all of the beautiful foliage green (and almost no mosquitoes!). Even more importantly, the programming has been stellar, the song sessions rockin’, and there have been abundant smiling faces all around.
I strongly believe in the importance of Jewish summer camps. The URJ happens to have some amazing facilities and options available. There is no better way for our youth to live their Judaism on a day-to-day basis than Jewish overnight camp. Whenever I can, I encourage my congregants to think about sending their children to Camp George (it is the only Canadian URJ camp after all) because I believe that the Reform Jewish values that are inculcated in fun, exciting ways are the ideal supplement to whatever students are learning in school (public, Jewish day, and religious).
This year’s education theme at George, “Just.Be.Holy” is the perfect example of the magic of camp. With age-appropriate silliness, content, action, and sport (The Holy Goalie, something every Canadian can love), the campers have learned more meaningful Jewish content than I can even quantify. Yesterday two units took the “Holiness Challenge,” and the number of campers who were screaming answers to questions like, “fill in the blanks–don’t place a stumbling block before the __________________ or insult the _____________________,” is inspiring. (If you don’t know the answer check Lev. 19:14).
As a congregational rabbi, my role at camp is extra special. I believe that when I get to camp, I am coming to my campers/congregants’ universe. Camp is their special place that I get to visit. When I see them walking around, or even better when they come running up to me to show me their arts & crafts project or I give them a ‘yasher koach’ (mad props) for doing a reading during services there’s a special interaction here. Though I’m blessed to work in a congregation where many of the students/kids/families feel at home, often they are coming into my space. (How many of the nursery students think that I live at the synagogue? A lot!). Camp is different. They get to see me walking around in casual clothes, singing their songs, teaching them in fun and silly ways. It is the best of both worlds for both of us.
A personal confession–I didn’t go to camp as a kid. There were lots of reasons, most of them in hindsight, not that good. It is one of my biggest regrets because I am totally a camp person. I am lucky that I am able to make up for lost time and go to camp as a faculty member (this is my fifth summer at a URJ camp).
Temple Sinai sent an impressive number of campers to Camp George this year (I think 49 but don’t quote me). We also had a number of staff members that are members of the community in Toronto. I know I am joined by my fellow senior staff members when I say that we would love to meet with any congregants about Camp George and how to get your children there.
Sending our children to Jewish overnight camp is, I believe, the best way to ensure their Jewish futures and ours, too.