Jewish Camp Is More than Living Vicariously Through my Son

I can’t stop smiling. Today was my son’s first day of camp.

I’m smiling because I get to experience camp again. I get to experience it through him, his joy and all of the memories and songs he brings home each night.

I’m smiling because for the first time in 10 months, he is surrounded by Jewish peers, Jewish love and the quintessential Jewish experience: summer camp.

I am smiling because the proverbial “village” will be cultivating Jewishness in my son in ways that I can’t do at home.

Dropping him off under the big tent brought me straight back to my first day of camp, circa 1989. The first day jitters mixed with excitement, hugs, and equal parts familiar smiles and new faces. Granted, my son’s first camp experience is in Minnesota and I was in California. I’ll be picking him up promptly at 4 this afternoon and back in my day, my parents dropped me off and I was away from home for 12 blissful days. Regardless, he will be surrounded by ruach, friendship, laughter and what I hope will be the strengthening of his Jewish roots, defined by his connection to others and a continued exploration of Jewish values.

Camp is a way to strengthen my son’s Jewish identity. I was born and raised Jewish. My husband was born and raised Lutheran. We are raising our kids Jewish, but being an interfaith family with little-to-no Jewish roots here in town, it’s a bit more challenging. I am trying to plant and grow all at once. My husband is all for camp. Initially, he was sold based on the convenience factor of one drop off and the basic camp programming such as daily swimming lessons and a weekly field trip. But last year, when our son would come home singing the songs he learned at camp, it was hard – even for someone like him who didn’t grow up going to camp – to not get caught up in the ruach. Then we went to the family picnic and I think my husband enjoyed it more than any other parent or camper there. The staff skits left him with tears of laughter rolling down his cheeks. I think he would have made a great song leader back in the day, which is one of many reasons why I call him a Jew by association.

For me, camp was the first place where I truly learned what it meant to be Jewish and live Jewish values. Service projects, gaga, social action, being moved to tears by the music of Shabbat, and Israeli dancing. It connected me to others in a way that has built life-long friendships. If I had to explain why I am Jewish and continue to be Jewish, the values learned and relationships fostered at camp would be near the top. Without camp, I don’t know if I would have had the solid Jewish foundation on which to build: To grow and become a leader in USY; to travel to Poland and Israel during one summer in high school; learning to be Jewish without family when I went off to college; becoming a BBYO adviser and Sunday School teacher when I moved to the Twin Cities; and ultimately building a community of my own as an adult, living 1,500-plus miles away from my family.

This morning when my son woke up, we had a warm-up song session at home as he brushed his teeth. I think I was more excited than him…I just wanted to get in on the camp fun. When we pulled up to the big tent, he sat in the car and I could see all of the wonderful memories from last summer running through his mind. He was pumped and ready for another summer of Jewish fun.

And so am I.