For the week ending 29 July 2017 / 6 Av 5777

Summer Camp

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Aviva

Dear Rabbi,

I have been appointed “activities director” of my shul’s summer camp. I’m supposed to come up with a theme for the camp which will fuse exciting activities with Jewish content. So, I was wondering if perhaps you had some ideas for a camp, or maybe just some approach one could use at home which might be adapted to the larger context of a camp. Thanks.

Dear Aviva,

I actually recently heard of a great idea and theme for a summer camp which is sponsored by a home for kids at risk here in Israel. The theme could easily be adapted for your needs, and the truth is, the approach could be adapted creatively even by parents for entertaining their own children during the summer vacation.

This year’s theme is called “Shemura zeh b’teva sheli”. Loosely translated as “being safe-guarded is in my nature”, the theme is based on the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet slogan promoting the protection of nature.

But the camp has ingeniously extended this theme beyond just guarding nature, to include safe-guarding oneself from harmful influences, while realizing one’s potential for good. Through a variety of recreational and educational activities the concept of the camp is intended to inspire the children to explore the role of safe-guards in the Torah and other Jewish teachings, as well as the role of natural influences, such as family, rabbis and community, in facilitating self-improvement and personal growth.

Thus, all of the truly exciting activities of the camp simultaneously emphasize the difference between enjoyment and fulfillment, and between merely having fun and taking responsibility. The idea is to teach the children that seeking fleeting joy and fun will not make for a better, truly happy person. Rather, responsibly tending to one’s personal growth, character development and talents is what brings one to long-term fulfillment.

These themes, which are so vital to helping young people attain and maintain wholesome Jewish values, and enable them to become healthy and productive members of society, are creatively interwoven within each activity. And they gain even more cohesive and emphatic expression through the venue of the traditional “Color War”, where “Red” and “Green” compete over the value of “safe-guards” (Torah teachings) vs. “nature” (family, rabbis, community) in making us better people.

Of course, in the end, both sides win, and every participant will learn the benefits and value of remaining both true to the Torah and loyal to parents and rabbis. What a fun, challenging and exciting way to learn! And since the children play a major role in planning events and taking responsibility for their execution, they actually experience first-hand the advantage and satisfaction of fulfillment over fun and accountability over being care-free.

This is the basic idea as I understand it. You can incorporate it into various activities, such as arts and crafts projects where the idea would be not just to entertain the children, but also to introduce them to hobbies and skills which they could then use as productive tools in their lives. Or you might plan swimming activities where, of course, the swimming is fun, but would also include basic life-saving or first aid, in the context of the mitzvah of “guarding your health”. Similarly, you could have courses in cooking, baking and other home-economics, with an emphasis on keeping kosher or other mitzvot associated with food preparation, like separating challah. And outdoor activities like hiking or other forays into nature could be directed toward raising the children’s appreciation of G-d’s Creation and the Torah mandate to guard and protect nature.

These are just a few examples, and I’m sure that with some thought and creativity you can come up with plenty of both exciting and Jewishly meaningful events and activities which will make your camp one of the best there’s been!

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