by Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg
I love Jewish summer camp. For our young people, there is nothing comparable to spending weeks or months out in the country with their peers, enjoying all that nature has to offer while immersed in a Jewish environment at all moments of the day. Our kids come back more independent and a few inches taller, with new friends, new skills, and — particularly special for me as a rabbi — a sense of how meaningful Judaism can be when we’re living it at every meal, every activity, and every wake-up and bedtime.
As a kid, I never really had that full summer camp experience. To my adult self’s chagrin, kid me was adamant about staying at home and spending as little time as I could in the sun. This changed in my high school years when I opted for three phenomenal weeks at URJ Kutz Camp. My attachment only grew as I spent several university and rabbinical school summers working at URJ Camps George (Seguin, Ontario), OSRUI (Oconomowoc, Wisconsin), and Crane Lake (West Stockbridge, Massachusetts).
This summer, I got to experience Jewish camping in a whole new way—as a parent and as a rabbi! For the first time, we sent our daughter up to Camp George for their 17-day session, and it was everything to her for which we had hoped. She came back with new friends, more independence, and a ton of pride in her Jewish identity (along with her Canadian identity, as this was her first time being in Canada for so many weeks).
If this wasn’t good enough, I got to be on the other side of the camp curtain as a rabbi on the camp faculty. Once again, I helped foster young Jewish identities in the beautiful Ontario wilderness through teaching, counseling, and just being present, whether in the Chadar Ochel (dining hall), at water ski, in the Beit T’fillah (sanctuary), or on the hiking trails. Because I was on faculty, my little guy got to experience overnight camp early, joining for day camp and sleeping in the lodge with me. I now have a 6-year-old who claims he’s ready to be in a bunk next year (even though I don’t think he actually is). Even better was that I got to see my kids in action, not through the occasional brief letter, but with my own eyes. I watched them adapt to their new environs and make new friends. I kvelled when they chose to find each other for hugs (and me and Miriam too!) and when my daughter made sure, at every breakfast, that my son had a hot chocolate.
As a parent, my heart is full.
As a rabbi, I am just so happy to be a part of this fundamental and beautiful summer tradition.