Rabbi Marc Soloway, Rabbi of Bonei Shalom in Boulder, CO, wrote the following post for his synagogue bulletin. We hope you enjoy reading.
Are you Ready for Jewish Holiday Summer Camp ?
By Rabbi Marc
This summer I got to spend two whole weeks at “Ramah of the Rockies” as rabbi in residence at this amazing Jewish camp here in Colorado. As I prepared to leave, I had a taste of the emotions of the two-week campers who were also getting ready to end their heightened summer experience; that intense sadness at having to leave the sacred place and the wonderful friendships cultivated there.
Ever since then, I have been trying to integrate my own camp experience into the rest of my life and to reach more of an understanding about what it is about Jewish summer camp that is so transformative — and if there are lessons for us to take into our Jewish lives when we are not at camp!
I would characterize the distinguishing qualities possessed by a Ramah camper as those of excitement, engagement, enthusiasm and connection, all of which permeate Jewish life, meals together, the outdoor experiences and, above all, the vibrant community of both campers and staff.
Summer ends quickly this year, especially if we mark the transition from summer to fall by the Jewish Holidays, all of which will be over before the end of September. So, as Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah approach, is there a way to bring some of that vibrant camp energy into our holiday season? Those of us who have experienced Jewish summer camp recently or in the past might think of those memories as the exact opposite of what we associate with High Holiday services. The informality, playfulness and adventure of camp seem like a stark and obvious contrast to the solemnity and formality of your typical service during the Days of Awe.
All the research suggests that people who have spent summers at Jewish camp are overwhelmingly more likely to be centrally involved in Jewish life as adults. They bring the joy and passion of camp into their homes and their shuls — and we need to help nurture them on their continuing Jewish journeys by making the Judaism practiced in our communities relevant and engaging. This is very challenging to do within the context of the most-attended events in the American Jewish calendar – High Holiday services!
I invite us all to take this challenge, whatever our level of commitment to Jewish life, a challenge to see this holiday period as one of spiritual renewal and of reconnection to ourselves and to community.
The sights, sounds and smells of our services are so different to those at camp and yet, what if we brought with us to these gatherings that same youthful excitement and sense of expectation, along with a willingness to be surprised? What if we looked around at our diverse and multi-generational community and saw everyone as a fellow camper on a spiritual adventure, sharing sacred space and covenantal community? Let’s try to bring fresh eyes and open hearts to all of our services as well as to the meals that we share together, sweetened with the taste of honey.
At Ramah, some campers are there for two weeks and other for a whole month or even six weeks! I invite us all to be month-long chalutzim, campers not ready to go home after that final shofar blast on Yom Kippur, but excited for a week-long wilderness adventure in the Sukkah, continuing the journey after the hours of communal confession and forgiveness to feel the power of literally camping out in celebrating the next round of holidays! The highest energy of a week at camp is the wild dancing after havdalah at the end of Shabbat. I invite you too to join that amazing dancing celebration that marks the end of the month at Camp Hagim with that crazy dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah night and again in the morning before we prepare to say our farewells to another year of Holidays!
So as you look through your packing list to get ready for this month, don’t forget to pack a heart full of curiosity and excitement. It will be more useful than the bug spray.
As we look forward to another year in our community and beyond, I bless each one of us with the brachah that we find joy, meaning and connection in these holidays and that we find fresh, new ways to engage in our Jewish lives beyond!