Hanukkah Night 4 | Scott’s Miracle of Camp
When I was 12 years old, the Sisterhood of Congregation Emanu El in Houston Sisterhood made the smart decision to give me a scholarship to attend URJ Greene Family Camp. Four years in NFTY, 17 summers on staff and faculty and an 18- year Jewish professional career would follow. After 28 years, I guess you could say they got a good return on their investment.
Katharine Whitehorn, a British journalist and author is credited with giving this career advice: “Find out what you like doing best, and get someone to pay you for it.” What better way to describe how camp has influenced my life. First at the Union for Reform Judaism, and now as a congregational professional, I am lucky to have found a career that combines my strong Jewish identity and the skills I learned at camp with my interests in technology and communications.
Last year, I joined the staff of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City as director of engagement and program. After I’d been on the job only nine months and just as our Purim festivities were about to begin, we closed our doors as the COVID-19 pandemic raged. I had exactly 72 hours to complete basic tasks that now felt like an exercise in logistical gymnastics. Not only did I have find a store with the equipment we needed, but I had to then get it safely from the store in one borough to an apartment in another, all so we could broadcast Shabbat worship from clergy members’ homes. In the weeks that followed, I spent hours training staff and preparing communications to congregants, as well tinkering with technology I had never heard of long into the wee hours of the night—all amidst untold uncertainty about our health and safety.
I thrived in this pivotal moment—and in so many others in my career—buoyed by the confidence and autonomy I developed at GFC, as well as the valuable skills I learned and honed in Bruceville: teamwork, leadership, resilience, and decision-making. All those years at camp taught me to face new challenges head-on and to stand on my own two feet.
Even now, my hands still sweat and my heart nearly skips a beat whenever I reach to hit the button to “take us live” at the beginning of our worship services. It’s as though I’m back at the edge of “the new pool,” gathering enough courage to take my first dive into the deep end. And when congregants thank me for Shabbat services from home with their community, the pride, too, is as thrilling as the high fives I shared with my counselors after my post-dive victory lap.
This year’s Chanukah miracle is that we can be together—even when we’re apart. I’m thankful for the role camp played in helping me make that Jewish community possible, especially in these challenging times.