By Eric Lightman
Director of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy
As a camp director, visiting a different camp is like stepping into a parallel universe. The songs are a little different, the schedule is a little different, and perhaps chicken nuggets are paired with tater tots instead of French fries. Yet it is still Jewish camp as we know it: campers learning and growing in a supportive environment filled with fun, friends and family.
In preparation for next year’s new 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, a Reform Jewish summer camp in the Boston area focusing on science and technology programming, I embarked on a journey most camp directors only dream of: seeing other camps in operation during the summer. What did I learn?
1. Same, same, but different.
A recent episode of NPR’s “This American Life” delved into the topic of summer camp in America. Although none of the featured stories focused on American Jewish summer camp specifically, any long-time camper would be able to relate to them. The cheering, the social dynamics, the camaraderie, the emotional bonds. Programs and activities that only campers could understand. At Eisner Camp and Crane Lake Camp, a moving and spirited “opening ceremony” sets the tone for the summer. At Camp JORI, a final banquet and slideshow gives campers deep memories to take home with them. Regardless of the different paths they took, all of the camps I visited achieved the same destination: creating a caring community and personally meaningful relationships.
2. Communities have character.
The aforementioned differences make each community unique. In a world of globalization and homogenizing culture, the camp “bubble” still exists, protecting traditions and maintaining unique elements of community (and personal) identity. At 6 Points Sports Academy, each meal ends with a call-and-response “zero – impact!” that reminds campers to take care of their environment. At Greene Family Camp, music that starts playing halfway through a meal signals that campers may begin to clean their tables and then participate in synchronized dances in the middle of the dining hall. These shared routines create character and connect campers and staff, building a sense of community, shared purpose, and shared values.
3. There’s a bond that unites us.
My farthest trip took me to visit eCamp, a computer and technology camp located at a boarding school in Israel about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The camp attracts children not only from Israel, but also Europe and the United States. What do campers from Beer Sheva, London and Chicago have in common? They share the common bond that has united the Jewish people for millennia: Shabbat. In a country where most everything screams “Jewish,” the most memorable part of their camp week is no different than it is in Massachusetts or Texas. The Shabbat experience not only unites us as a local camp community, it links us with the worldwide Jewish community.
I thank the many gracious camp directors that hosted me this summer and allowed me not only to observe their communities, but to be a part of them. The Jewish camping landscape is replete with summer options, and we at 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy are excited to offer yet another type of Jewish summer experience to children. If your child has an interest in science and technology, and you are looking for a two-week overnight experience, we would love to share the joy of Jewish camping with your family!