by Beth Blick, Coleman Faculty and Parent, Temple Emanu-El, Atlanta, GA
A few weeks ago I was scrolling through Facebook and came upon a post on the ARJE (The Association of Reform Jewish Educators) page asking for everyone’s favorite moments at Jewish summer camp. I love this page because I usually gain great insight and information from my peers and colleagues. I don’t comment a lot, but this post grabbed me immediately. You see, 6 summers ago, I had my “aha” Jewish camping moment. As any educator knows, the “aha moment” is what we all strive for, whether we are teaching Hebrew, Judaic Studies, Social Studies, Science, or Math…the aha moment is what we chase!
My son, Mason, was six the first summer I worked at URJ Camp Coleman. When Mason was in kindergarten, Bobby Harris came to Temple Emanu-El and talked about camp. Mason was enthralled and he wanted to go to this amazing place with a lake and a pool and fishing and krav maga and art and, and, and…. Since I had worked at and attended summer camp most of my life, I asked for an introduction to Bobby and I applied for “anything you want me to do.” I was hired as a one rotation cheerleading specialist.
That summer, Mason and I headed off to camp. The first service we attended was led by Rabbi Scott Gellman, who was not yet a Rabbi…or even a rabbinical student. During the service he began to speak about the Shema. He spoke about why we close our eyes, the importance of the prayer, and focusing on calling out to God. As we started praying, I looked down at Mason, and his eyes were closed. Mason’s face was tilted up towards the sky, and he was singing away with joy. It was the most beautiful moment of watching my child be Jewish at camp; he was completely encapsulated and unapologetically Jewish. As I looked around, I saw the rest of the campers doing the same thing. I was so moved to see all of these children getting to be Jewish at camp — unapologetically Jewish.
From that moment, that aha moment, URJ Camp Coleman and Jewish education took hold of my heart. I knew that Jewish camp and Jewish education was what I wanted, not just for my child, but for every Jewish child. Mason and I returned from camp that summer and I doubled down on my involvement in The Diamond Family Religious School at Temple Emanu-El, eventually becoming the Principal of the school. After that summer, I knew I wanted to infuse camp-style learning into the religious school setting.
I am returning to camp this summer for my fifth summer. I moved from cheerleading specialist, to transportation coordinator, to faculty. I would still go and do “anything” in order to see children grow and flourish as part of their kehillah kedoshah, their holy community. URJ Camp Coleman gave me the aha moment that educators chase, and I hope to bring that to as many children as possible.