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July 5, 2013 / Rabbi Laura

What I learned this summer at camp

Those who know me know that going to URJ Camp Newman each summer is a big part of my family’s life.  I grew up going to Jewish summer camp, Camp Swig z”l.  Rick and I both worked at Swig together as college students.  And our sons have grown up at Camp Newman as well.

The beauty of Jewish summer camp is that our children – and we – always learn new things each summer.  We make new friends (and keep the old). We learn about Judaism. We learn about ourselves. We learn about life.  We reconnect.

It seems like each summer I return home with a list of things I learn and hear about and want to bring home with me to explore more deeply.  This year’s list is a bit random (and perhaps slightly inappropriate).


Movies to watch, music to check out, and of course the latest slang that I need to investigate (more on that to come soon).

But, in reality, I come home with life lessons that I probably really do know but somehow forget each year as I get stuck in the routines and ruts of life.  Camp reminds and reboots.  This summer, I am refocused on three lessons:

1. Give snaps. Sitting around a circle of high schoolers studying a text or discussing their opinions on an ethical issue, when a teen says something that others agree with, they give her snaps.  They snap their fingers.  A snap means, “I like what your are saying.”  “I agree.” or even if one doesn’t agree, “I support your courage to speak up.”

I like this minhag (custom) because it creates a supportive environment for everyone to say what they think or feel without fear of judgement or rebuke.  It creates safety and respectful exchange of opinions.

And, as an adult to sits in way too many long meetings, it provides a venue for one to express agreement without repeating the same idea over and over again. Sometimes adults feel the need to say things just to hear their own voices.  Our teens just snap instead.

2. Be silly. Be joyful. No matter how old we are, our inner child comes out at camp.  We let go of the what-will-pepople-think inner dialogue and just go with the flow.  What emerges from that is childlike joy and silliness, deep belly laughter that invigorates and revives the soul.  1001145_10151666609533421_1759726640_n

3. We are stronger when we hold each other up. One of my favorite things to do each morning at camp is Israeli folk dancing. A number of us began a couple years ago dancing regularly for exercise. You’d be surprised how many steps you get in during 45 minutes of folk dancing.  This summer we had a new member join our morning exercise dance group.  On our second morning of dancing together she said, “I am so surprised you don’t hold hands when you dance together. When we hold hands, we are stronger and we hold each other up.”1952

Granted, we don’t look at all like this when we dance, but her lesson is so true.  At camp, we learn that we are stronger together.  We hold each other up as a community, as a family, as friends.  That strength carries us through the rest of the year.

Were I still at camp this Shabbat, right now I’d be putting on my Shabbat whites, getting ready to sing Shir Chadash, eat Tammy’s delicious chicken, and dance the night away on the basketball courts with my Camp Newman family.  Instead, Rick and I are going to have a quiet Shabbat dinner and join our TBI Fresno community in Shabbat worship (also a good thing!).  Yet, I carry with me the memories, the laughter and the lessons I learned this summer at camp.

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