I’ve read many articles throughout the years about what activities have the biggest impact on one’s Jewish identity. Not surprisingly, summer camp is toward the top of the list. I am a huge proponent of summer camp. It had an enormous impact on my Jewish identity. To this day, my joyful expression of Judaism is rooted in camp worship.
So you can imagine how delighted I was when the opportunity arose for me to travel this past weekend to Zionsville, Indiana to spend Shabbat at GUCI (Goldman Union Camp Institute). When I arrived, I met up with two Dayton rabbis (Rabbi Judy Chessin of Temple Beth Or and Rabbi Karen Bodney Halasz of Temple Israel) who had been there for a week or so.
In the weeks prior to going, I found myself enthusiastically telling people “I’m going to camp!” The fond memories I had from my own camp experience bubbled to the surface, and my excitement was hard to contain.
Shortly after arriving, the Friday night Shabbat service began. It was led by the oldest female campers. They eloquently weaved their feelings about summer camp into the service. One girl expressed that “the only problem with summer camp is dealing with the sadness that comes from leaving.” I think many of us can relate to that sentiment.
After the service and dinner, the campers gathered together to sing Shabbat songs. I smiled as I observed a group of girls hugging and swaying to the music. Not too far away was a group of boys doing the same thing. They were having a blast. There were no outside distractions or worries…just joy and laughter. It was truly magical.
On Saturday morning, Rabbi Judy Chessin led GUCI’s last Shabbat service of the summer. Sitting next to me was Rabbi Karen Bodney Halasz. How lucky can I be? It was beautiful. She spoke of the tug summer camp has on our Jewish lives. No matter how many years pass by, the experiences and lessons we take home from camp help mold and shape our Jewish adult lives. Many campers feel the tug of those emotions throughout the entire year. As a symbol of this analogy, Rabbi Chessin gave the campers kites, which she referred to as yiddishkeit (Jewishness)!
The campers embraced in hugs as the service came to a close. I found my eyes welling up, eventually spilling over with tears of happiness and appreciation for the opportunity to experience such an amazing weekend at GUCI.
This priceless adventure served as another poignant reminder of why I chose a career as a Jewish communal professional. I am incredibly proud of the continued impact summer camps have on our youth, and so very grateful to have had the chance to experience it first hand.
To receive Cathy’s WHIM in your inbox each week, click here.