A few weeks ago, I got the best text ever from my daughter who is spending the summer at URJ Camp Eisner, a Reform Jewish summer camp in the Berkshires: “Hey Daddy, I just got a name tag :D!” While that might not seem like much of a text, in a few short words one of my foundational,personal Jewish experiences began to come full circle through my daughter.
Jewish summer camp has been a central part of my Jewish life from a very early age. Some of my earliest summer camp memories are of Camp Centerland, the day camp run by the Buffalo, NY JCC. Later on I was a camper at Camp Lakeland, the JCC’s overnight camp and in High School I was a program participant in Torah Corps at URJ Kutz Camp.
Jewish summer camp was a part of my college years as well. Most of my summers were spent working as a counselor at Centerland,at the JCC’s Pre-school camp and finally at Olin-Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), the Union for Reform Judaism’s camp in Oconomowoc, WI (the place from which this blog gets its name).
It would not be an overstatement to say that not only did camp help shape my later adult Jewish life, but that it was at the center of what brought me to the rabbinate. At Kutz I had the first inklings that I might want to be a Rabbi. Years later, sitting under a tree in Oconomowoc, talking with one of the Rabbis on camp faculty, inkling became inspiration and my Rabbinic journey began.
From that day, I had no doubt that one day I would be on camp faculty and from the day I became a father, I had no doubt that my children would be going to Jewish summer camp. For the past 12 years I have been on faculty at URJ Eisner and Crane Lake camps. And for the past 12 years, my children have been Eisner campers, beginning with the Eisner Day Camp and continuing through this summer where my daughter is in the Machon CIT program. We only half joking say we spend the year simply waiting for our summers at camp.
All of which led to the aforementioned text from my daughter. “Hey Daddy, I just got my name tag :D!” meant, staff name tag in hand, she was no longer a camper and the long held dream of being a counselor was one step closer. And a father’s heart swelled with pride and understanding.
This week I began my two week stint as a member of the Eisner faculty. Every now and again I catch little glimpses of Sarah with “her girls” and kvell as I watch her travel paths that were such an important and vital part of my own Jewish journey.
And tonight it all seemed to come truly full circle as I watched her help staff one of the camp plays on the very stage where I had seen her as a camper/ actor in camp plays for so many years in the past. As I watched the staff come out for a curtain call, her unbridled joy reflected in my heart and the smile on her face was only exceeded by the smile on my own. And through my daughter eyes I was blessed to see the circle begin anew.