First in a series from Reform Educators from the Association for Reform Jewish Educators, ARJE.
by Rabbi Stacy Rigler, RJE
I have spent many of my summers since 1993 at URJ Camp Harlam. It has always been my “happy place.” As a congregational educator it has also been where I went away to discover what others are doing, see Jewish learning and living come to life, and connect with my congregational campers. It was a great way to sit back and watch our kids in their element. The past two summers I have worked behind the scenes as the J-Life Supervisor. Here are my reflections on how to prepare for camp:
דע לפני מי אתה עומד – “Da Lifnei Mi Atah Omed” Camp is a place where tradition runs deep. Take time while you are at camp to learn about the culture, what makes things last? What ties kids and staff into the culture? Use your time at camp to learn, to try to understand, enjoy the freedom from needing to be the one who runs it all, and embrace the ability to observe Jewish life.
החכם לומד מכל אדם – “HaCham lomeid me kol adam” Learn from everyone. Go into every situation thinking what can I learn here. You have a tremendous amount of expertise, use it to make significant connections with campers and staff. Ask questions about their lives, their passions, their interests. These connections will transform your experience.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how – from an organizational perspective – my work in a congregation is in some ways the opposite of the camp work. I have tons of time to plan for a short experience, at camp there is also a shortage of time to plan for a long, immersive experience. It often catches me off guard… if I would have known, I would have brought… What I have learned is what matters most is my ability to be fully present, I have brought myself. In an environment where flexibility and fun reign supreme the key to success is to to understand the beauty of camp is the spontaneity. Your preparation is bringing your authentic self and a desire to appreciate the magic of a camp setting.
Rabbi Stacy Rigler, RJE, is the Director of Religious Education at Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.