I never tire of reading why children from our congregation love participating in a Jewish summer program. One student expressed what was like to attend for the first time Camp Newman:
“I remember the very first time I left for camp my eyes were full of tears as I watched my mom leave through the bus window. But things changed quickly. I found a seat next to a nice older girl who passionately told me how camp was going to be an exciting adventure. All the way there, she filled my ears with everything I needed to know about camp. She made me feel welcome from the very start.
The first night of camp was tough as well. I hardly knew any of my cabin mates. There I was sitting all alone eating spaghetti and meatballs, when out of the blue a group of girls just came up to me, sat down at my table, and welcomed me right into their conversation. We really hit it off and these girls are still some of my best pals today. We text or call each other to chat every few days. It is so nice to have Jewish friends who share my interests and with whom I can share my Jewish life. Friends are one of the main reasons I want to go back.”
Summer programs offer children the opportunity to experience being in an immersive Jewish environment. They are safe places to learn and grow. Another young lady writes,
“Shabbat starts off with CIT vs. Staff Frisbee. Then you go to your cabin, shower, get dressed, and some people wear makeup. Everyone is happy as we get ready for Shabbat. All the girls in Girls Village meet and we take pictures with each other. Then the girls with guitars lead us down singing to join the boys. From there we go to Beit Tefillah for services. As we enter the dining hall, faculty and staff greet us all. We have a delicious meal and then special Shabbat brownies. After dinner, we go to the basketball courts and dance all night! Shabbat is my favorite!”
In addition to Camp Newman, our students attend a variety of other Jewish summer programs. One young man will be participating again in the Maccabi games sponsored by the Jewish Community Centers Association. He offers these thoughts:
“It means a lot to go to the Maccabi games this summer in Connecticut. I will represent Temple Beth Torah with pride and dignity. I really enjoy spending time with other Jewish people, since that is something that doesn’t happen within my school days. Last year when I went I had a great time. Our team, Team East Bay, won the bronze medal. Many of the players are returning again this summer so we can win the gold! I met so many people and had the experience of a lifetime and I am eager to participate in this amazing event again.”
I am inspired by the enthusiasm and delight our students express about their experiences in Jewish summer programs. What a wonderfully enriching way for our young people to make new friends. As they learn about the Jewish world beyond Temple Beth Torah, they broaden their horizons and deepen their Jewish connections.