by Angelica Ruiz, Youth, Learning + Engagement Assistant at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas
When I started the summer, I wasn’t really sure why I volunteered to be faculty this summer. I am a Jew by Choice and a Jew of Color and while my home congregation, Temple Emanue El in Dallas, is a wonderful place, I have had trouble feeling like a part of the community. These past several months I have felt a sort of rift between me and the religion I love. I don’t always get a chance to celebrate Shabbat or the holidays because I don’t always have a place to go.
Though I have never regretted my decision, sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever truly fit in. Because I didn’t grow up Jewish, it can get lonely when people around you share memories that you can’t make up for. Sometimes I feel like I’m running a marathon of sorts, trying to get as many Jewish experiences in so that maybe, one day, I’ll finally catch up. Maybe that’s the real reason why I decided to come to GFC.
My coworkers, all GFC alums and/or former staff, were excited for me to visit and I promised to keep them updated on my thoughts during the week. I admit that I was definitely ready to text snarky commentary. Jewish summer camp is yet another experience that I can’t make up for and one that is clearly central to the American Jewish identity, so I was already feeling a bit cynical. I was also scared that I wouldn’t fit in.
I was welcomed from the minute I stepped onto Greene’s property. The other faculty members were kind and the staff was nothing short of amazing. But the real surprise came from the kids. To them, I was like any other educator they’ve had and my status as a Jew by Choice or the fact that I don’t look like the typical American Jew didn’t even cross their minds. That was a precious gift they gave me and they don’t even know it.
Camp is often described as magical, but I was in awe of how sacred it is to the campers themselves. During one lesson, the bunk expressed how much they loved being here. Camp is their safe haven, the place where they can reunite with each other and just be themselves. That’s powerful at any age, but especially when you’re still figuring out who you are.
I’m still figuring out where I fit in the Jewish community, but I am grateful to GFC for giving me this opportunity to experience Jewish summer camp. I am also thankful for the kids I taught because they reminded me that this community is my family and I have a place here. I may still be struggling with my faith, but this experience has mended part of that rift. Maybe that’s the real magic of GFC.