Back to Camp Night

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By Jay Rapoport, Kallah Segel and Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Sholom of Chicago, and the creator of “Ruach Rock,” original Jewish music for kids, teens and families.

Like any kid on the precipice of summer at a new sleepaway camp, I am quivering with anticipation and terror. Of course, I’m not a kid, but a parent and new faculty member at URJ OSRUI. Tonight, after attending the back-to-camp parent program for my toddler, my thoughts turned to my own camp orientation, and my impending first overnight camp experience in fifteen years.

One of the fringe benefits of working as a reform Jewish educator is being able to serve on the faculty at a URJ camp. With all the excitement of graduating HUC-JIR last spring, finding and starting a new job and moving my family to a new city, I almost forgot that my reward for surviving my first school year as Director of Lifelong Learning would be getting to return to camp.

I was a day camp director for ten years, out of seventeen summers spent at Camp Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia. When I “retired” in 2011 to start a family in New York City, I wasn’t sure of the next time I would spend my summer at camp. Unlike most of my colleagues, I didn’t grow up in the URJ camping movement, or particularly involved with NFTY, though my mother encouraged me to participate in both. Despite her efforts to get me to try URJ Camp Harlam, it wasn’t until years later when I met my wife Rachel (King) that I joined a URJ camp family and found out about what I had been missing.

However, OSRUI is already precious to me. Having attended Hava Nashira, the reform music conference, since 2005, I moved to Chicago knowing the layout of the camp, and have had the additional pleasure this year of spending retreat weekends there and visiting with my family. In roughly fifty days spent in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin over the past decade, I have already formed amazing sure-to-be-lifelong friendships, experienced the magic of Shabbat at camp, and watched the sun rise over Lac La Belle – an annual tradition. Whenever I step out of a vehicle onto the camp grounds, I feel like I am home. In some ways, I feel totally prepared to spend the next two weeks at OSRUI, and in others I have no idea what to expect.

My attitude about returning to camp back in high school always involved asking myself  – could it possibly top how awesome last summer was? And it always did. Time to take the plunge again, and welcome the 2015 chanichim (campers) home to OSRUI.