Camp and community

Camp and community

I’ve often written about how themes seem to present themselves unplanned in our stories. They’re never thought through and rarely seasonal, because that’s too easy. They can be about stigma, or travel, or sickness, or art, or history, or teaching philosophy, or home rule, or really just about anything. But they pop up, a sign of the zeitgeist. Or something.

This week, the theme clearly is community.

When you think about it from a distance, it makes sense. October 7, the violent brutality of the attacks, and the antisemitism that illogically followed them — the response should have been love, the desire to protect and comfort, but it was not — have drawn many of us closer together. Many Jews who have been outside the community have chosen to come into it, at times driven by fear, seemingly more often by curiosity, a sense of fellowship, and pride.

Summer camps offer not only a sense of community but the truth of it.

It makes sense that camps work to produce a feeling of belonging, along with a strong desire to belong. They function in a way like Ulpans or even boot camps. Total immersion produces a cohesive group. The outside world can feel very far away. The colors at camp can be so vivid that campers start thinking of the rest of the world in black and white, the way Dorothy Gale saw Kansas as monochrome and Oz as glorious Technicolor.

Jewish camps are extraordinary at giving Jewish campers a Jewish education without them necessarily even realizing that they’re being taught. Yes, sometimes camps have classes; sometimes kids even pay attention in them. But most of the learning goes on informally, almost by osmosis.

One of the many things kids can learn at camp is how very much fun learning can be. Old-fashioned educators saw fun and learning as diametrically opposed; one of the brilliant discoveries kids can make at camp is that learning can be exciting, stimulating, sometimes even funny. It can be fun.

As we see, camps make the kind of community that can last a lifetime.

The Jewish Broadcasting Service also creates community, offering a range of programming broad enough so that at least part of it is likely to appeal to everyone. It goes about community-building radically differently than camping does — it allows people who are isolated at home to feel less lonely through the emotional and intellectual stimulation the network provides.

And of course the combination of poetry and coffee always brings people together.

We hope that although the external need for community goes away — that this new surge of antisemitism goes back down into the sewer, and the manhole covers clang shut over it — the internal love of it remains to enrich our lives.

And parents, think about sending your kids to Jewish summer camp!


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