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I Admit It, I Miss Camp

1/21/15

By Abby Knopp

I admit it.  I have missed camp these past few months since moving from the Foundation for Jewish Camp to serve as Chief Operating Officer at The Jewish Education Project.  In fact, it has caused me no small amount of angst as I have come to understand how the ground beneath me has shifted.  Merely mentioning what I do for a living no longer elicits knowing smiles accompanied by comments like, “Oh, you have my dream job,” or “I loved camp – what a great way to bring more children to Jewish life.”  Now the conversation is much more complicated.  Because now I am representing parts of the Jewish educational sector that, though widely viewed as critical to our future, very often engender skepticism.  Is the high cost of day school really correspondent to its value?  Is it actually possible to provide engaging and inspiring learning in a synagogue setting? 

This past week I crossed an important threshold into understanding what is possible in synagogue settings.

That’s because last week I was privileged to sit among a group of parents of elementary age children and listen as they spoke with profound gratitude about their new found love of Judaism and about the strong Jewish community they are building, together with other families and within their synagogue, Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City.  As participants of MASA, a congregational education model that revolves around the family as the learning unit, these parents agreed to be part of a focus group and to share their experiences.  I hadn’t expected to be moved to tears but I was. 376372_10151116853179026_1763883360_n

There were parents in the room from a variety of Jewish backgrounds.  One gentleman acknowledged that he had been raised in a home that distanced itself from Judaism even though he was sent to Hebrew school.  He has chosen to become part of MASA so that he and his son can experience Jewish growth together and so that his son can be exposed early to Judaism.  Another parent, the mother of an 11-year old girl, talked about the fact that – for her – the time of day when MASA meets (3 – 5:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoons) connects her more closely to the change of seasons and, by extension, to the Jewish calendar.  During the winter months, she and her daughter leave for home in darkness and bundled up in hats and scarves.  With each passing week, it is just a little bit lighter when they walk out of the synagogue doors and, by the end of May, she said, they’ll join friends for ice cream and look forward to several more hours of daylight.

People often refer to camp as a place where “magic” happens.  How true that is.  And last week, I was reminded about the many other places where Jewish magic can happen, too.  For this group of parents, at least, their synagogue-based communal experience brings together a “magical mix” (their terminology) of Jewish learning, friendship, family, and community.  In their own words, they feel “enveloped by Judaism” for the first time in their lives.

And all of this is happening, not at a lake, but on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

One response to “I Admit It, I Miss Camp”

  1. Dan Pliskin says:

    Wonderful post, Abby. Maybe you should say that you make your living as a “magician.”

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