By Rabbi Ari Margolis and Dr. Kathy Schwartz, RJE, Moshavah Segel (Faculty)
We send kids to summer camp to have fun, make Jewish friends, embark on new experiences and to develop a sense of independence. In Moshavah, our chanichim (campers) choose to go on overnight wilderness trips – hiking, canoeing, biking, or rock climbing. During their travels, they covered miles on the water and on the trail. We witnessed them pushing themselves with a good sense of humor and constant support of one another. They went out of their comfort zones whether it was repelling off a cliff, or carrying all they needed to camp for the next few days. And when the load became too heavy to carry on their backpacks, they shared the weight with another camper. They confronted fears, tackled challenges they did not know they could overcome, and emerged with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
Yes, they had fun, became closer with their peers, tried new things, and grew to be more independent. We noticed after each subsequent trip, they became more comfortable with themselves and each other. Not only were they more independent, they felt like they were the owners of their experience. This agency was exercised off camp on the tiyulim (trips) and on camp back in their home space. They relished the opportunity to lead services. They crafted a variety of different ways to help their peers experience prayer, from guided meditation to introducing the middah (virtue) that we were studying for the week. They quickly volunteered to read from Torah and those in song leader chug (elective activity) led a musical service. In our learning sessions, they had discussions about how they wanted to express their Judaism off camp, and they also helped define the minhagim (customs of t’filah) on trips. One night during the rock climbing trip a boys tent spontaneously began to sing the bedtime sh’ma, and then just decided to do the rest of the service. On the girls hiking trip two chanichim picked up their walking sticks and converted them into air guitars to song lead an evening service that included the prayers of their own choosing. While on the trail, they began a practice of bursting out “ma rabu ma’asecha Adonai”, how greater are Your works, God! These were moments of our campers deciding what they wanted to do, when and how they wanted it to happen. Moshavah had become their playground to try on that feeling of agency.
The outstanding madrichim (counselors) who listened to and supported them spoke honestly about how they hoped to influence their lives as young Jews the way older counselors had influenced them. They demonstrated what it meant to be a role model who provides the inspiration and safety net while also allowing the campers to explore who they were becoming. This is the true gift of camp. It is not just about campers growing, gaining new experiences and friends, or having fun. It the ability to explore who they are becoming. That journey of recognition might cover many miles and challenges, but it is not taken alone. We segel are with them as are their madrichim. But perhaps more importantly, their Jewish community of peers is with them. Camp enables them to define who they are as young people, as Jews, and as individuals who are learning about their world.
Rabbi Ari Margolis serves as Rabbi at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills, IL. Dr. Kathy Schwartz, RJE, serves as the Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder, CO and President of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators.