Longing for Jewish Summer Camp

In case you missed my article from the September ’11 issue of the Jacksonville Jewish Center‘s CenterPieces:

All children have a funny feeling this time of year. While parents are beginning to spiritually prepare for the High Holy Days, children have a knot in their stomachs. Part of that is a result of not being ready to return to school, but I suspect most of that feeling comes from residual disappointment that the summer is over. Some of our greatest life experiences take place over the summer, and many of our most influential and meaningful Jewish experiences take place at summer camp.

Whether children spent their summers at our very own Camp Ki Tov, Camp Ramah Darom, or one of the many other Jewish summer camps, the feelings are the same. Camp is about fun and experiential learning. Camp is about enduring Jewish memories. Camp brings Judaism to life, turning every single moment — from swimming, to basketball, to arts and crafts — into Jewish moments.

You have a special bond with your camp friends. You may only see them from summer to summer, but when you see each other, it has if nothing has changed. They are your kehillah kedoshah, your sacred community.

Camp also has a profound impact on who we become as individuals and as Jews. The Foundation for Jewish Camp’s recent study, Camp Works, suggests that Jewish summer camp attendance increases the likelihood of adult participation and identification. In the study, those who attended Jewish camp were more likely to donate to a Jewish charity, light Shabbat candles, attend synagogue regularly, and be emotionally attached to Israel.

I am sure many  are active and involved in the Center and in the Jewish community because of the profound impact that Jewish camp had on your life. So as our children return home teary eyed and tired at the end of the summer, we hug them and tell them to get excited for next summer.

The irony of the unique community that camp offers is that it is limited to the summer. Most suggest that camp wouldn’t work as a year-round experience, that what makes camp so special is that it is limited to only the summer. Campers yearn for a return to camp during the winter. If camp lasted year-round, then campers wouldn’t count down the seconds until camp returns, or stay in touch with bunkmates via phone, email, and Facebook.

During our transition to Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Jewish Center, my wife and I have been welcomed with open arms. So many friends and family members — and synagogue members — asked us what it was about the Jacksonville Jewish Center that spoke to us.  The Jacksonville Jewish Center is such a special community that those “camp moments” that many long for are felt at the Center year-round. Amazing formal, informal, and experiential learning opportunities are offered at the Center for both young and old. There is swimming in the pool after Shabbat services and softball on Sunday mornings after minyan. This sure seems like camp to me!

More specifically though, those meaningful and influential Jewish experiences also take place here. The warmth of community, the festive meals, the Shabbat hugs and kisses all take place here. We are lucky enough to not have to wait for the summer for those amazing experiences or for that incredible community. While others have to wait until summer 2012, we can simply come to the Center!

– Rabbi Jesse Olitzky

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