We went away when we were very young
To find the person that we would become,
To find the person that was hidden somewhere inside.
What we discovered there, it still holds true,
The friends you make become a part of you,
The friends you make will each return to you like the tide
These words to the song “Stars in the Sky” by Rabbi Larry Milder written some 37 years ago still speak to the magic of time at summer camp. Evidence demonstrates clearly that one of the most effective experiences a family can provide their children is overnight Jewish summer camp. And I can confirm anecdotally that after more than a week at our URJ Greene Family Camp, the individual growth, Jewish living and learning, alongside the magic of sleepaway camp is ever present in Bruceville, TX.
I confess to you that I did not attend Jewish overnight camp when I was a child. It is one of the major regrets of my life. So much so, that if I had a time machine, one of the things I would go back and change would be that I would attend camp. In my case, from the age of 11 that would have been our movement’s camp OSRUI, in Oconomowoc, WI. Fortunately, as a rabbi I am lucky enough to spend time with our congregation’s youth in their happy place, summer camp.
What changed my perspective? It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment or experience. However, as we learn in Shelach Lecha, it is possible for two groups of people to see a similar place or experience entirely differently. Shelach Lecha tells us about the assignment of 12 scouts sent by Moses, one from each tribe, to scout the Land of Israel. Ten of the scouts come back with a dreadful report of what they see. However, two of the scouts, Joshua and Caleb, report that the Promised Land is great! I think the difference between these reports of the very same place has to do with the scouts’ attitudes. Caleb and Joshua see their grand adventure with optimism and curiosity. The other 10 are looking for problems and can only find what they seek.
This summer, more than 90 campers and members of Temple Beth Shalom will attend Greene Family Camp. We also have campers at URJ’s Jacobs Camp, 6 Points Sports, and 6 Points Science, just to name a few. Our campers will grow in their independence and in knowledge of Judaism, especially prayer and song. They will make friends for life. We pray that they will be like Joshua and Caleb, curious and hopeful, ready for new experiences and adventures. We hope their souls will be enriched by the magic of summer camp, too, and that when they return to us they will be our teachers.
May each of us, whether at summer camp or at home find peace, joy, and community around us.
Rabbi Ellie Steinman
Temple Beth Shalom campers with Rabbi Steinman at Greene Family Camp
Rabbi Ellie Steinman, Ed.D (she/her) is the senior-rabbi elect at Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, TX.