Monday, July 09, 2007

Dispatch from Camp #4: Judaica Bowl & Camp Heartland

Last night we held the annual camp Judaica Bowl (see picture, it's a Judaica BOWL, get it? Ha ha. David wanted to know if there really was a bowl). It is such a cool event because we spend a lot of time cheering and celebrating and honoring the kids who know a lot about Jewish knowledge! Each eidah (unit) chooses its team and then the eidah teams compete against each other. Jerry, the camp's director, gets a big kick out of choosing hard and interesting questions to stump the campers. We, the faculty, serve as judges for the answers that might be questionable...

Even though I love the Judaica Bowl for what it honors, it also makes me a little sad. I can answer almost every question that is asked in the Bowl (aren't you glad...considering that I'm a rabbi!?) but I know that most of our campers don't know most of the answers. Sometimes this seems a little disappointing to me because I wish that our kids had a higher level of Jewish knowledge under their belts. Most of the kids who are on the teams are kids who attend day schools. On the one hand, this demonstrates the efficacy of these schools. On the other hand, does it illustrate a problem with our supplementary schools? I think the answer might be yes.

On the third hand (why not!?), most of our campers feel an incredible connection and spirit with and for the Jewish community. Watching them sing songs in Hebrew and celebrate Judaism here at OSRUI is hugely important. These are the kids who will feel a connection to Judaism for the rest of their lives.

But is it going to be enough?

Is it enough for our kids to grow up strongly connected but somewhat ignorant of Jewish law, custom, language? I know this is a struggle that so many Jews have felt thorughout the generations -- that their generation or their children's generation is growing up with less Yiddishkeit. I look at these kids and I know that Judaism is going to survive -- but will it be as strong and vibrant with less knowledge? These are the questions with which I struggle.

Today we had a guest speaker for our units that are studying the concept of heroes. We invited Neil Willenson, the founder of Camp Heartland, to come and speak about how he saw a need and met it with the creation of his camp for kids with HIV/AIDS. He was a great speaker and I really believe that he helped our kids to "get" what we've been talking about in terms of the reality of being a gibor, a hero. He also brought with him Nile Sandeen, the young man whose story of his own struggles with HIV inspired Neal to found the camp. The two of them made a powerful team in how they spoke to our campers. One of the reasons we brought Neil was because he is a Jewish hero, but I was glad that he was able to bring along Nile, who isn't Jewish, to talk about his own story. I think it was good to show the campers that heroes can be Jewish and also not, of course.

One other point...Neil brought up the story of Jackie Robinson. I have always heard tell of him as a hero for breaking the color barrier in baseball...but when Neil told the story, he offered me a slightly new perspective. Jackie Robinson was indeed a hero for what he did. But perhaps an even greater hero in the story is Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers who signed Robinson. After all, it was almost as difficult for Rickey to choose to bring in a "colored" player as it was for Robinson to take on the task. Interesting to think about who really is a hero.

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