By Micah Saltzberg
Camp Airy is a Jewish camp in Western Maryland, and it is also the place where I have spent the second half of my summer for the last nine years. I still remember my first summer “up on the mountain.” I was anxious going in, not having stayed away from home for a significant period of time before. When my parents picked me up two weeks later, as soon as we got in the car they asked if I wished to return for the next summer. I was astonished that they could not already foresee my answer based off of the smile on my face that went from ear to ear.
Camp Airy gave me the type of experience that, just through one two week session, I knew I couldn’t get anywhere else. Something about the culture of Camp Airy offers an in-depth look into what it means to be a Jewish kid in the modern 21st century world.
A counselor of mine has said that Camp Airy is not a Jewish camp for boys; it is a camp for Jewish boys. It is a place where people with nothing in common–but the fact that they are Jewish–can go and enjoy the summer in the cool Catoctin Mountains in Thurmont, Maryland. Camp Airy reinforces for me the fact that Judaism is a lifestyle and a culture, not just a religion where the only way to practice is with Biblical traditions.
Living with other Jewish kids from around the country shows the many ways to experience Judaism. Because every camper there has been raised Jewishly, we all automatically have something in common before ever meeting each other. This builds a foundation and a bond that wouldn’t be possible at a more secular camp. Jews have lived together for thousands of years, and Camp Airy prides itself on continuing this tradition, even if only for the summer.
Additionally, Camp Airy helps me see connections that Judaism has to my life and the impact that these connections can have. Every Saturday, the entire camp meets together at our amphitheater for Shabbat services that combine religious traditions with modern meaningful camp traditions. Each week has a theme, such as brotherhood or sportsmanship. Two counselors give a D’var Torah combining ideas from the Parshah of the week, other areas of Judaism, contemporary camp life and more general ideas in a way that centralizes upon the given theme. This is an experience that could not be had anywhere but Jewish camp. During these sermons, I feel connected to my camp family, my Jewish family and my relatives all at once. By going to a Jewish summer camp, I learn how to find the balance between Judaism, the freedom and fun of summer and my life at home.
The reason that I love Camp Airy and return every year is because it is a chance to leave my problems behind, to go up into the cool mountain air and to just hang out and be a kid with kids I have connections to dating back to before the Common Era. The fact that we are all Jewish creates a bond between us that you simply can’t get at any other experience during the summer. I look forward to returning for another summer “on the mountain,” and I look forward to making my connection with Judaism even stronger.
To learn more about Jewish camping, check out The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping.