Camp as a Formative Jewish Experience

By Larry Ginsburg, Head of Jewish Life

What is a Jewish experience? I mean, truly, beyond the synagogue, beyond the classroom – what do we want when we say that we hope our kids are “experiencing Jewishness”? In many cases, what it comes down to is connection; Jewish experience, in any form, largely revolves around the connections that we make, and the degree to which those connections have a meaningful impact on our lives.

A few weeks ago, at our Supervisor Leadership Weekend, I had the privilege of leading a session with our dedicated and talented supervisors about this very topic: how connections are at the core of the Jewish experience, and how we, as a camp community, can leverage our ability to make authentic connections in order to create space for exciting and open Jewish exploration. Because the reality is, for most of our campers and staff, coming to CBB of Ottawa is their formative Jewish experience throughout the year; it is where they primarily connect with Jewish peers, Jewish role models, Shabbat, Israel, and Jewish atmosphere. The goal for us, then, is to be their Jewish role models throughout the summer and infuse Jewishness into all that we do at camp, in order to present Jewishness in a way that is approachable and meaningful.

Certainly, if an individual’s formative Jewish experience is something that is distant or not enjoyable, so too will their picture of Jewishness be distant and not enjoyable.

Jewish experience does not only come in the form of Jewish content; simply by virtue of being an activity which exists in our Jewish camp context, we are creating and fostering Jewish experience for our campers and staff. In thinking about Jewish life, especially as it relates to those creating the connections and experiences, the goal isn’t to constrict to a certain group of individuals, but rather open the ownership opportunity to a wide variety of individuals, in order to ensure the best possible Jewish atmosphere.

And while our campers and staff won’t be flipping latkes at the waterfront, they will be gaining valuable Jewish experience there, and all over camp (maybe without even realizing it!). Simply by interacting with Jewish friends, and Jewish role models, in a Jewish setting, authentic Jewish experience comes naturally, by way of connections, all throughout camp, not just during Shabbat and Judaic periods.

So, as we inch closer to what is sure to be an exciting summer at CBB of Ottawa, a time when campers are re-introduced to Jewish experience in the most pervasive of ways, I cannot wait to see our authentic Jewish experience take form once again, and see our staff and supervisors continue to embody the role of Jewish role model throughout the season!

Judaism is for everyone to enjoy and to model for one another; this simple truth is perhaps most evident in a camp setting.