It didn’t take long – the first camp dinner at Coleman and I remembered how much I loved camp. Maybe it was the sound of 400 voices singing HaMotzi, the blessing before eating. Maybe it was hearing them welcome the new staff and faculty with the singing of “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem.” Or maybe it was the cooperative spirit as the kids in a cabin learned to clean up their table together by “passing and stacking.” Or maybe it was something else – something you can’t quite name – that makes a Jewish summer camp one of the greatest places on earth.

At Camp Coleman, the summer camp experience is seamlessly interwoven with the rhythm of Jewish time. Hebrew names are used for buildings like the office, dining hall, and infirmary. Song sessions feature Hebrew songs. Interactive prayer services are a part of every day. A delegation of 30 Israelis are part of the camp staff. Judaism is every where you look – including the zip line, the ropes course, and the ga-ga pits. 

The value of welcoming others was clear as cabins and units created cheers and rituals to include everyone. One of the most special moments I saw was when the youngest kids were paired with buddies from the oldest unit. These “buddies” may have never met, but there was an instantaneous love and connection as the campers got the message, “You belong here!”

It was a busy week! Over the course of my time at Camp Coleman I had the opportunity to discuss Jewish values with counselors submitting bids to run MAC (the Maccabiah color wars that take place sometime during the summer). I led learning experiences about Hebrew slang, different ideas of God, and how to create programs for all kinds of learners. I worked with an amazing programming team to frame activities with Jewish texts. I led a weekday morning service with Jewish themes we learn from Winnie-the-Pooh. I worked with three counselors preparing to read Torah at Saturday morning Shabbat services. Imagine the joy I felt when I was stopped in the middle of the afternoon and a counselor asked if I had a few minutes to look at his Torah portion! To see the week from the view of the campers, check out the Weekly Show – Summer 2012 Week 1.

As I worked with these counselors, I couldn’t imagine better role models for our Jewish kids. Many of them are in their first few years of college and they have chosen to spend their summer instilling the love of camp, Judaism, and tradition in the hearts of others. I saw the depth of this connection as the counselors led rising 10th graders in a discussion about why Judaism matters to them – complete with orange plastic bracelets to serve as reminders of this question while learning or while on the basketball court. 

The week ended with Shabbat and you could tell how everyone was ready for a day of rest after a busy week. Friday night the camp dressed in white to welcome Shabbat. Services were led by volunteers from all units who connected to the prayers and to their first week at camp. Here is a section from the reading before Aleinu:

The Aleinu reminds us of our hope that one day, we will all be “One”. We welcome others to our one community. For the returning campers, we welcome the session happily. We also welcome new campers who haven’t been here before. New campers should be treated with kindness and loyalty.

At the end of our week at camp, I was physically exhausted (and slept over half of the drive back to Miami). After all, there aren’t hills in Miami! But I was also energized with new ideas about

  • How to infuse our congregational education with the spirit and joy that I witnessed at camp
  • How we need to create opportunities for our kids to be themselves in Jewish environments
  • How to make Jewish education at Temple Judea even more “hands-on”

This was after a week at Camp Coleman – imagine what your child can get from attending a session next summer! Interested? It’s not too soon to start planning. Please be in touch with the Education office to learn more about camp and about available financial support.