Greetings from Camp Harlam, the Reform Movement summer camp in the Poconos! We -my wife and I who are on faculty, and my two daughters – are about to celebrate our last Shabbat here at camp before we come home this Sunday. If you have never experienced Shabbat at one of our Union for Reform Judaism summer camps it is truly something special. Everyone dresses in white and gathers by unit for “Kabbalat Shabbat,” where we sing songs and faculty members tell a story. We then process to the “Chapel on the Hill” outside for a service that is led by kids and songleaders strumming their guitars. The “ruach” – the spirit – is palpable. This being the last Shabbat at camp, it will also be filled with young tears, as the children and teens begin to say goodbye to the special friends they have made a camp.
When I tell you that there is nothing like a month at a Reform Jewish summer camp to inspire and bring genuine joy to a young person’s Jewish identity (and a not-so-young rabbi’s as well!) I hope you don’t take it as hyperbole. There is no single experience you can give your child, save a trip to Israel, that can completely change the way a child views being a Jew. Truth be told, sending your child to a Reform Jewish camp, like Camp Harlam, is likely to have an even greater impact than a trip to Israel, simply because kids go to summer camp year after year, beginning at a very young age. Just like every other quality summer camp, the experiences children have there are foundational, written on their hearts forever. The kids here at Camp Harlam have the same wonderful summer experiences that kids do at other camps – athletics, swimming, ropes courses, hikes, trips, color war, campy songs and lots of group hugs. The one difference is that here Jewish values, identity and spirituality are seamlessly woven into daily activities. The kids don’t experience it as “religious” or “too Jewish” because it isn’t. It is just camp – and camp means friends and fun and a lifetime of memories.
My hope is that this note will encourage those of you who have children in elementary school – as young as children entering 2 nd grade right now -to consider sending your child to Camp Harlam next summer. The Reform Jewish summer camps around the country are enormously popular and fill up quickly once the fall begins. They hardly need to advertise. If you are interested just reply to this email and let me know you want to hear more.
In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of kids singing on Shabbat in the dining hall, my daughter Sarah and a friend, and a firey photo from Israel Day here at camp.
p.s. I am also a big fan of Camp Eisner and Crane Lake camp in the Berkshires, as well as the Six Points, the Reform Jewish sports specialty camp in North Carolina. You can ask me about those as well.