By Lisa David, Stacy Rigler, and Anne Berman-Waldorf

As Summer fades away, and educators move into the hustle and bustle of the new year, we often find ourselves reflecting on “What do we do over the Summer, and how are we using what we learned?”

For many years, Jewish educators have found themselves at Jewish summer camps. Whether to visit congregational campers, to support camping systems and learn from them, to recruit staff, or for tuition discounts for their own children, educators and camps find themselves crossing paths regularly. This intersection is rarely formal and perhaps not as intentional as it could be. URJ Camp Harlam and the Association of Reform Jewish Educators are trying to change that.

This past Summer, Camp Harlam, under the leadership of Associate Director Lisa David, reached out to the Association of Reform Jewish Educators to host a joint day of learning. URJ Camps have increasingly been looking at its partner organizations to create more mutually beneficial partnerships and enhance collaboration, establishing, for example, shared staff positions that understanding that bring seasoned camp staff to fill congregational staff positions, ensuring continuity and high quality professionals embedded in both organizations. At URJ Camp Harlam, part of this strategy of broadening the relationship camp has with its partner organizations has been an effort to bring groups of potential partners to camp over the summer through Special Visitor Days, focused on areas of practice such as Youth Engagement, Inclusion and Music Education, that expose guests to the best of what camp has to offer, and provides opportunities for networking and learning for guests and camp professionals. As the vision for Jewish life and learning has evolved at Camp Harlam, and as congregations increasingly inquire about how to “bring camp to congregations,” Lisa reached out to ARJE Vice Presidents Anne Berman Waldorf and Stacy Rigler, who have been Summer faculty and involved in the educational program of Camp Harlam for over 20 years and there the idea of partnering with ARJE to bring educators to camp was born.

The Association of Reform Jewish Educators within the past year has changed its name, its mission and most recently its membership. Understanding that education takes place in settings beyond the synagogue walls, the ARJE in recent years has been eager to bring camping professionals, youth professionals, educational consultants, and all those who seek to promote Reform Jewish education together. Sponsoring a day of learning at Camp Harlam was an exciting opportunity for the ARJE. “The response was immediate and exciting” recalled Rabbi Stacy Rigler, “We all thought, why have we never done this before?”

During this Day of Learning, titled “Religious School and Camp: What Can We Learn From Each Other?,” educators were invited to observe camp educational programming, including an experiential educational program and tefillah preparation involving specific age groups. They were also invited to meet with Camp Harlam’s Inclusion Coordinator, Lori Zlotoff, who explained how Camp works to meet the needs of all the children to ensure their success, and how to create an open and safe community. After lunch, educators learned from Michelle Shapiro Abraham, The URJ’s Director of Learning and Innovation, Youth, who helped frame a continuum of formal to informal learning at camp and highlighted the assets of camp that make it successful. The day concluded with Anne Berman Waldorf inviting the educators to reflect on their own assets, and how school year educational programs and camping programs fulfill different and similar goals.

Jewish educators are familiar with a story of a man who has a dream about a treasure buried under a bridge. After journeying to this far off bridge he meets a man who tells him he has had a recurring dream about a treasure buried under a house, the house of course belongs to the man who set out on the journey.  The treasure was located beneath his feet all along. As year long educators we sometimes look at camp and think, it’s so easy at camp, they have everything, a beautiful setting, a holistic environment, and a staff who truly byes into the mission. As Camping professionals we sometimes look at year long settings and think, wow they have the luxury of time, of being able to take a break, sleep on a problem, take time to work with staff, to engage families, and to really get things done. The biggest take-away from this day of learning is that each of us must harness our resources, and understand our assets. We can learn from each other, and spend more time intentionally discussing how we accomplish our goals, and how we can work together, especially in the areas of curriculum, staff training and leadership development in order to accomplish our shared mission.

Lisa David is the Associate Director at URJ Camp Harlam.
Stacy Rigler serves as the Director of Religious Education at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel.
Anne Berman-Waldorf serves as the Director of Lifelong Education at Congregation Beth Chaim.