By Eli Kaufman
As a young student at a Jewish Day School, I would come home almost every day feeling like I had grown Jewishly. I would learn a new prayer, a new tradition or a new explanation. For many students, June is where the learning stopped. It took a hiatus until late August when school started up again. But for me, June is where the learning really started.
Beginning the summer entering seventh grade until the summer before my sophomore year of college, as both a camper and as a staff member, I attended Camp Ramah in Canada, a Jewish sleep away camp.
A Jewish sleep away camp is a great way to decompress from the school year and a great way to feel refreshed for the next. Even though you can learn so much in a school year, it can be difficult to put it all into perspective. Every summer at camp, there are many Jewish learning sessions. And every year I felt that I was able to contribute more and more to the discussion and as a result, got more from the conversations and activities.
Camp was a great place for me to reflect on what I had learned throughout the past ten months and apply it. Ramah was a place that I could continue my Jewish education and then apply the lessons to my everyday life at home and back at school. Camp is where I learned how to lead services. Camp is where I learned practical Hebrew skills. And Camp is where I learned many Jewish values that stick with me to this very day.
Camp is a place to create, build and sustain strong relationships. I will always remember what happened at the exact moment that I stepped off of the bus on my first day of camp. I had no clue where I was going, and it was all very overwhelming. I was wandering around and got lost and felt super lonely. I felt like finding an adult and asking them to put me back on the bus and send me right home, but one boy walked up to me and asked me if I was alright.
Everyone can remember the days in elementary school when everyone went to lunch, opened their lunch boxes and pulled out their food. If the boy three seats away also had carrots for lunch and the girl that sat across from you also had peanut butter and jelly, you just knew that today was going to be a great day. And for that lunch period, nothing else mattered. You were going to be the best of friends.
Jewish camp is just like elementary school lunch period. Campers are friendly and the staff is fantastic, but it is a different type of feeling. Everyone has one thing in common. They are all Jewish.
I don’t want it to sound that everything is “all Jewish, all of the time” at Jewish sleep away camp. Campers play sports, swim, boat, participate in arts and crafts and learn many new skills. But camp provides everyone with this special connection that makes friendships and relationships stronger.
I spent two summers on staff at Camp Ramah and that was even more rewarding. Not only could I give back to a place that gave me so much, I was amazed by how much my campers grew during the summer. By the time the summer was over, the campers had gotten into a routine and were much more independent than when they had arrived. It is so easy to see how camp had a role in their maturity.
My friends and I used to say ‘We live for ten months for the two months at camp.’ As soon as camp was over, a countdown began until the next summer.
Jewish camp is an experience that every Jewish child should have. The memories that are created, the lessons that are learned and the friendships that last long after the final Havdalah are just a few of the seemingly endless list of reasons why a Jewish sleep away camp is one of the best ways to spend a summer.
Find out more about Jewish camping at The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping.