by Rabbi Benjamin David
Once upon a time, you either went to camp or you didn’t. Such days are behind us.
Growing up outside of Philadelphia, there were essentially two groups amongst my close-knit group of friends, a group populated by various cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious affiliations. There were those who stayed at home, working, volunteering, or competing as part of our local swim team or basketball club. Then there were those of us who left for four weeks, maybe eight weeks, to experience the rhythm of summer in different terms. I was, am, and always will be a lover of URJ Camp Harlam in the Poconos.
While life has changed exponentially since my first session there as a wide-eyed 9-year-old, the few constants have come in the form of the precious view from the Chapel on the Hill as we made our way from “Lecha Dodi” to Barchu, eventually Shema, as well as the clamor of the dining hall following Shabbat dinner, and the truly unexplainable closeness I always feel there with friends, with Judaism, and with this green slice of land two hours from my house.
As James Earl Jones once saw baseball as America’s lone constant in “Field of Dreams,” for me, Harlam was the only constant in an otherwise fast-changing world. Indeed, that has always been my field of dreams.
As a rabbi, and a dad, I find great joy in acknowledging that the over-simplified days of those-who-go and those-who-do-not have passed. This summer, my congregation, Adath Emanu-El, sent two dozen teens and young people not only to URJ camps, but to NFTY PAR’s Summer Leadership Kallah, the still-new Camp Chazak, NFTY in Israel, and NaShir, the songleading institute held at Kutz Camp. There is now, truly, something for everyone, a summer experience for every child, every possible brand of interest and every relationship to Reform Judaism. And while each of these experiences is no doubt different, they are likewise the same in more ways than one. What are the commonalities? Shabbat. Community. Identity. Acceptance. An emphasis on growing in character and confidence in a world that would seek to deny our young people such things.
Just as we at the synagogue strive to offer programming that provides for every teen, our movement, acknowledging our teen population’s diversity and aboundingly heterogeneous make-up, now offers a summertime doorway for everyone. I love that. I’m proud of that. As rabbis and lay leaders a goal should be to match families with the program outlets that will appeal to them and their child. The once straightforward question, “Have you considered camp?” is thus replaced by “Which summertime experience could be most right for you?” And so it is that Reform Judaism continues to challenge what has been in the name of creating a Jewish people and a Judaism for tomorrow.
Rabbi Benjamin David is the rabbi at Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, NJ. He is a co-founder of the Running Rabbis.