A sea of white. Lying on a tennis court with your friends, looking up at the stars. Singing and dancing during services. This is a typical Friday night in the mountainous area of Cleveland, Georgia, at the beautiful URJ Camp Coleman. In less than 4 days, children from all over the Southeast (and beyond) will be arriving at camp for first session, and for what will hopefully be the best summer of their lives. I started attending camp in the summer before 6th grade and returned the next 4 summers after that. Camp Coleman is what I like to call my “home away from home.” It is truly a place that has helped me connect to my religion, find out who I am as a Jew, and to find out where I fit into the Jewish community. Coleman is unique in that they have services every day, some of which are traditional, while others have a unique twist, such as a nature or meditation service. Unfortunately, my time as a camper ended in 2015, but I am so excited to be going back home this summer, this time as a machon (counselor in training). Not only will I be re-immersed in the Jewish values and customs of everyday camp life, but now I will also be gaining the skills that it takes to be a leader in my community. I plan to bring home these skills and apply them during my term as LIBERTY’s president this upcoming year.
Nearly 700 miles away, in Warwick, New York, is another place dear to my heart- the URJ Kutz Camp. Even though I only spent one summer there, I left feeling like a completely different person. I spent the summer learning alongside aspiring Jewish leaders from all over the country, as well as from Canada and Israel. Each participant chooses a major at the beginning of camp that helps develop specific leadership skills while incorporating Jewish values. I am so grateful to have worked in the Mitzvah Corps program while at Kutz and to have dedicated my summer to learning about the importance of inclusion in our community. I learned about the autism spectrum, and then was even able to bond with Kutz participants that are on the spectrum. This experience taught me the value of being inclusive and was a guiding principle during my time as LIBERTY’s Membership Vice President this past year. The most amazing part about Kutz is seeing how the participants take the skills they learn and apply them in their own lives. Some, including myself, became their Temple Youth Group’s president; others were elected onto their regional boards; and three of my fellow participants had the honor of being elected onto NFTY’s National Board this upcoming year. Even though I won’t be returning to Kutz this summer, I’ll never forget the people I met, the memories I made, and most importantly, the skills that I learned.
Kutz and Coleman have changed me in ways that I can’t even describe. Each camp is so different and yet they’ve both helped me grow as a person, as a Jew, and as a leader. I hope others have the opportunity to have the same experiences that I had.