By Lois Rubin
NFTY in Israel Committee Chair, URJ Board Trustee
Past President, Congregation Kol Tikvah, Parkland Florida
Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat which falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was our opportunity here at Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, Florida, to welcome home our 30 plus campers and Israel program participants. It was the third Friday of the month, our Rock ‘n Roll Shabbat, and we had a sanctuary full of families with children of all ages.
Why welcome home our kids? They have already been back a month or more, already been hugged and kissed by their families. They have enjoyed being back in their own rooms and their own beds, reunited with parents, siblings, friends and pets.
A congregation needs to say welcome home too, because these kids did not just go to any camp. They went to Coleman, Six Points, Kutz, EIE and NFTY in Israel. They lived our movement’s values each and every day. We as a congregation want to hear what they want to share. We want to listen as they relive the highs of their summer, the quiet moments, the special moments. Relationships were cemented as lifelong friendships began.
We want our kids to know that we support them, missed them, and are glad to have them back in our congregational home as well, back at their Jewish address. We want them to know they are important to us and to the future of our Judaism. We want it to be clear to them that we are interested in what they have to say.
To that end, some of those in attendance came onto the bimah to share what these URJ-infused summers mean to them. One shared that they say the Sh’ma every day at camp. “I think this is why I feel safe at camp”, she said. Another shared that she learned so much at Kutz and is excited about bringing back that knowledge to her leadership position here at our temple youth group, PARTY.
We heard an EIE participant share the “letter she wrote to herself” and how amazing it was for her to live in Israel for a semester in Israel, and how she feels so close to the friends she made there. A NFTY in Israel participant shared his seminal moment as the sun rose on top of Masada when he felt a strong and lasting connection to his grandfather, of blessed memory. He knew at that moment that he would always have that transcendental bond and his grandfather’s memory would live on through him.
I looked at the toddlers in our sanctuary, and I looked at the parents as our younger members shared their stories. How many of these parents are saying “I want that for my child”? How many are being for the first time introduced to what a URJ camp or Israel experience nourishes in our children and can one day nourish in their children as well?
Lois Rubin is past president of Congregation Kol Tikvah, Parkland, Florida. She is a URJ trustee, currently chairing the URJ NFTY in Israel Committee, and serving as First Vice Chair of the South District of the URJ.
Visit www.urj.org/youth to see a complete listing of URJ Camp, Israel and Youth programs.