Every summer, an inexplicable phenomenon occurs across the URJ’s summer programs: Its diverse communities are brought together with a cohesive and unique feeling of belonging.
The passion for community, the unplugging from technology, the belief that anything is possible, and the potential for transformation… They can only be explained as the magic of summer programs.
The summer opportunities allow for URJ youth to transform their spirit, their character, and their lives for the better.
Be a Part of the Magic
“It was very clear that camp was changing who they are as people and that change was definitely for the better.”
-Dan Merer, URJ Camp Harlam head songleader on how camp works
Camp magic uplifts, invigorates, and sustains participants from one summer to the next. According to a faculty member at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, this magic, both literal and intangible, is the result of significant intention.
After spending many years as a camper, a first year staff member at URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) is just beginning to understand the deepest level of camp magic.
What makes camp magic special? At URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, the “camp bubble” phenomenon is effective because camps and staff unplug from cell phones and fully embrace their surroundings.
For many, the magic of camp is most prominent when entire camps and programs join together for services and prayer. In North Carolina, URJ 6 Points Sports campers reunite as a family for Shabbat and Havdalah after a week of playing on their respective teams.
“The magic of camp is stargazing with the people who understand you in a way your non-camp friends never will. It’s knowing that you always have a second home to come back to after a hard year.”
-Jess Stein, URJ Camp Kalsman trips supervisor on what makes camp magical throughout its short history
The ability of summer programs to bring together people from across the globe is magical. Listen to a URJ Camp Coleman podcast that features two Ugandan Jewish staff members.
URJ Harlam Day Camp’s assistant director explains how the staff lives the magic when they help instill that passion and love for Judaism found at overnight camp into their younger campers.
Feeling the Magic, Everywhere
The magic is unique to each program, whether it be an overnight camp, a day camp, or a NFTY program.
Programs that last a brief two weeks have the power to change lives, says Mitzvah Corps New Orleans’s program director, himself an alum of the program. In addition to gaining new friendships, participants begin to live with intention and become comfortable taking risks in ways they never were before.
Mitzvah Corps Costa Rica does great work to transform the local community, but a big part of the program is transforming the lives of the participants. The program helped one participant notice that she was part of something bigger than herself, sparking a desire to see more of the world around her.
Through NFTY in Israel, participants experience the magic of Israel year after year, taking in a variety of sights and visits that include the magic of the Negev.
The Magic Remains
Once the summer is over, campers return home valuing the connection to their Jewish community. A URJ OSRUI faculty member shares how her congregation is transformed by having so many of its students attend camp.
It’s impossible to replicate the 24/7 immersive Jewish environment after the summer ends, but as URJ Camp Coleman’s director reminds us, there are ways to feel closer to camp throughout the year.
This year, the URJ Greene Family Camp group that attended NFTY in Israel in 1988 reunited for a 27-year reunion. Their ability to get together after all those years proves, as one alum writes, that, “Camp is magic. Israel is magic. Being a part of the Jewish community is magic.”