Throughout the off-season, we engage a number of parents in interesting “conversations” online about various aspects of our camp program. This year, we thought it would be a good idea to publicize some of these email exchanges for our broader camp audience. We will always remove names and any identifying factors. We will make small edits to ensure anonymity and correct sentence flow, but otherwise we will publish them in their entirety. We hope that this segment will be published whenever we feel that there is something worth sharing, and will shed a little light onto how we promote camp in the off-season and the intentionality that goes into making the summer season a success.
“I do feel that making mincha optional sends a really weak message to the kids and is exactly the kind of thing the Conservative Movement in general suffers from. It’s important to us that he regulate himself to davening [praying] and we will ask him to attend mincha but with so many kids allowed to play instead it makes this a real uphill task for those who know their parents/Hashem [God] expect it. I wish these divisions between movements would disappear and mitzvot would simply be a given and not an option.”
Rabbi Eliav’s response:
Thank you for the email and for being so honest. I wish I could meet you in person to explain why we, intentionally, do not make Mincha mandatory for most of the kids, but I hope that this email will begin the conversation. You are welcome to call me, whenever, to speak more.
In short, we attract a broad range of kids from different Jewish backgrounds, Reform to Orthodox (and also unaffiliated). Our counselors are an equally diverse group. Only about 30% of our kids go to Day School. I start with this, because one of the special aspects of our camp is that it is a chance for children from all parts of the country (26 states) and varied religious backgrounds to gather, learn and be inspired. I do not hire staff based on their personal Judaic knowledge, but on their own passion for Judaism and the religious journey they are on…. (By the way, we make all staff learning optional, and most classes are VERY well attended, simply because they are optional and not required). As someone who grew up Orthodox, and went to Orthodox Yeshiva in Israel after high school, I can tell you that our community is so much more spiritual than so many environments that emphasize the Keva [fixed prayer] over the Kavannah [intentional heartfelt prayer]. I have had numerous parents of right‑wing Conservative and left-wing Orthodox kids comment to me how their children have returned from camp with a greater sense of God and Mitzvot than anything they got in their Day Schools. I have many parents tell me that it is their children who now ask to go to shul on Shabbat because of the experience at camp.
So do we have less davening than some other places? Without a doubt! But does this help us create an environment with more passionate and meaningful prayer, in both the broad and narrow sense of the word? I think most kids who come through our camp would answer a resounding — Yes!
Again, please feel free to be in touch directly.