Shabbat is a time for the Jewish people to take a step back from their everyday life, to rest and rejuvenate, to share space and time with other Jews, and to pray and celebrate the gifts we are given from God. It is a time of quiet and laughter; a time of prayer and song; a time of smiles and tears. Shabbat is the perfect metaphor for what my experiences at the Jewish summer camp, Camp Livingston, mean to me.
You see, I don’t get homesick, I get camp sick. This was a sentiment that I shared on my Instagram account this year. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but it was deep in the winter, a metaphorical Thursday morning to my winter’s long week. I was dreaming of long lazy Shabbat dinners and song sessions with my friends at camp.
I wanted to hike through the woods, and hold hands with my friends. I wanted to unroll the Torah Scroll on Shabbat surrounded by nature and friends, in front of an ark that had been hand-painted by campers, including my older sister, who came before me. I longed for that leisurely pace that Shabbat brings to a hurried week that summer camp brings to the year.
After seven summers at camp, I was both anxious for camp and dreading it, for this would be my last year as a camper, my octogenarian summer, if you will. It would be bittersweet, and I would cry as much as I would laugh, but I yearned for it with all my being.
The late Laura K. Cohen knew the special space that camp holds for youth, it was so evident that after she passed away, her family and friends knew that they had to make that wonderful camp experience available to other Jewish youth through a scholarship fund that bears Laura’s name. I was fortunate enough to be able to be a recipient of this scholarship this year so that I could spend part of this summer remembering what it is I love about being Jewish.
As a part of a large family, I can tell you how Camp Livingston affects my everyday life. Every morning, I get up and proudly pull on my eight-year jacket to snuggle up in as I wait for the bus. I pass my photos and crafts that hang on the wall, and smile as I think of my friends who were with me singing and laughing as we strung beads, wove bracelets, and painted or drew. I text or Instagram nearly daily with groups of friends from all over the country and even the world, all the way to Israel, because of Camp Livingston. My sisters and I know all the good songs to sing when we celebrate Shabbat with our family, insisting that the Livingston versions are the best.
This year my youngest sister finally got to spend the night at camp as a camper, after years of watching her seven older siblings prepare and pack up to go. She wasn’t nervous the way so many first time campers were, she knew what a wonderful time she would have because of our sharing.
My younger sisters are finishing their yearlong b’nai mitzvah season. It is always wonderful to welcome our camp friends into our home synagogue, Keneseth Israel. As it is also wonderful to be able to walk into many synagogues all over the region and feel at home not only with the handful of people we know, but the songs, the service and customs.
My brother just left for college. He was a bundle of nerves. On his way to college, he stopped on the drive up at another college to share a bagel with another nervous, incoming freshman, someone he met at Camp Livingston. They parted, hugged, and said, “I love you, man.”
Camp Livingston provides a kesher, connection, to Judaism in a way that my family, local community, and synagogue can’t. The way that Shabbat connects us to God in a way that the other six days of the week cannot.