Blog  What I Learned at a Jewish Camp in France

What I Learned at a Jewish Camp in France

by OSRUI Alum Rafi Ellenson

Riding into Paris on a bus full of Jewish preteens from all over the French-speaking world, we started singing. Well, screaming really.

Ouais! C’est super! (Yes, it is great!)
Kol Ha’olam kulo!! (WOOOO!!!) (The whole world)
Gesher tzar m’od!  (is a very narrow bridge)
Gesher tzar M’o-o-o-od! (is a very narrow bridge)
V’ha’ikar, v’ha’ikar lo lifached klal! (And the most important thing is to not be afraid)

Our unbridled enthusiasm was a scene familiar to anyone who’s seen the last day of camp elsewhere, but there’s something special at Mahanetzer, a Jewish summer camp in the south of France.

During the summer weeks I worked there, I quickly came to love French liberal Judaism for its unique melding of creativity, openness, and diversity. Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions are mixed and matched with a healthy taste of newer sensibilities from the United States and Israel. Alongside all of that is a certain je ne sais quoi typified by a wholehearted willingness to experiment and try new, homegrown ideas to see what sticks and feels relevant for the community.

Before I left for France, I told anyone I could about my exciting summer plans: “Why, yes, I am going to be leading prayer and music in southern France for three weeks this July. Thank you for asking.”

I would inevitably hear one or both of the following in response: “But isn’t that dangerous?”


Rafi Ellenson is a former OSRUI camper, staff member, and unit head.  Currently, he lives in Jerusalem where he is a Dorot Fellow.