The request from Greg Kellner, Assistant Director of Eisner Camp, seemed simple enough: write a few paragraphs what it means to be a faculty member at Eisner. As I sat down, the task seemed more challenging than I imagined. How do I summarize the motivation that keeps bringing me back here for the past 21 summers as a faculty member? Is it the promise of grilled cheese and tomato soup? Or is the lure of donning a cowboy hat and overalls for Rib Night? No, while those are highlights of my summer, the truth is that I come here for 2 reasons: one requires me to give and one requires me to receive.

Rabbi Matt Cutler teaching Limud for Chaverim & TzofimThe ability to give is not that much of a challenge. After all, Eisner is the place where I fell in love with Judaism. I came here as a kid and now years later, I get to teach kids the secrets and the majesty of Jewish life. The secret for me is found in a teaching in Pirke Avot which states: find yourself a rabbi and acquire yourself a friend. Those words are forefront in my mind as I drive into camp to start my tenure as a faculty member. What is it that I want to accomplish? Pirke Avot said it one way— that is what I want to be: a rabbi who teaches texts, a friend who guides a camper to a greater connection to his/her faith.

Let me be truthful. It would be disingenuous for me to say that is the only reason I keep coming back to camp. I come to get my professional batteries recharged and get a level of so-called professional therapy that I cannot get anywhere else. Sitting under a tree, I get to be the rabbi I always wanted to be. I get to teach. The kids are more or less enthusiastic.  As much as I teach them, I learn from them. Jewish learning at Eisner is a journey that faculty and campers take together. As a result, the rewards are sweeter than any anything I encountered in the synagogue setting.

However, the best part of being in camp is being with my kids. Not only my three kids, for whom I relish the thought of sharing some of the magic I experienced here. But I get to spend time with children from my congregation, sharing an experience with them that is more meaningful and enduring than any I can inspire from the pulpit.

So to answer Greg’s question, what does it mean to be a faculty member? It means that I get to shape Jewish souls, one camper at a time!

Rabbi Matt Cutler is the rabbi of Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, NY. readers may remember him from his days at Temple Shalom of Newton and the Rashi School.