Summer Spotlight 2016: Celebrating What Makes Us Unique

 Celebrating What Makes Us Unique


The summers that youth spend away from home are critical ones in terms of personal development. Kids are not only growing physically, but they spend these years thinking a lot about who they are and their place in the world. According to Miriam Chilton, the Vice President of Youth for the URJ, there are four key questions that young people are trying to answer:

  • Who am I?
  • To whom am I connected?
  • To whom am I responsible?
  • How can I bring about change in the world?

 URJ camps and summer programs are providing resources to help young people answer these questions for themselves. In this year’s Summer Spotlight series, we highlight each of these four main questions and take a look at how they are being addressed during a URJ summer. The first installment is: Celebrating What Makes Us Unique.



Jewish identity

Summer is a time for fun, but it can also be a time of introspection and personal growth. As a participant of a URJ camp or summer program, Jewish youth are given the opportunity to take a good, hard look at what it means to be Jewish.



At URJ Camp Coleman, campers participated in T’fillahpalooza, where each camper was able to pick a unique prayer experience that made the prayers meaningful to them.

URJ camps and summer programs allow Jewish youth to learn, perhaps for the first time, that “wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.” One URJ Jacobs Camp camper reflects on what it means to be a Southern Jew and why going to camp with other young Jews is important to her.

URJ camps and summer programs allow participants to experience Judaism in ways that they don’t normally at home. One NFTY in Israel participant learned to appreciate Shabbat in a new way during his time in Israel, and intends to bring the tradition back with him.


When asked why she comes to camp, this URJ Camp Newman camper said that she’s there “to build a stronger connection with Judaism.”


More than just Jewish: building a home for everyone

While many participants of URJ camps and summer programs share common Jewish identities, these summer experiences also allow youth to work and play with people who differ from themselves. URJ programs create an open space in which participants can delve deeper into all forms of identity, Jewish and not, from gaining a better understanding of the gender and sexuality spectrums to learning about the needs of individuals with various disabilities.

A representative from Keshet, a Jewish LGBTQ organization, spoke with members of URJ Eisner Camp's staff.

A representative from Keshet, a Jewish LGBTQ organization, spoke with members of URJ Eisner Camp’s staff.

URJ summer experiences allow participants to think about their Judaism, but they also allow them to ponder all facets of identity.  One URJ Urban Mitzvah Corps participant was surprised to realize that learning about people very different from her also helped her learn about herself.

The first thing that a person will hear when stepping foot on a URJ camp is “Welcome Home.” A first-time URJ Camp Harlam counselor reaffirms that even for him, a non-Jew, Camp Harlam is home.

URJ camps encourage campers to continuously try new things in a space free of judgment. A URJ Camp Harlam faculty member compares the common camp phrase, “Don’t yuck my yum,” to what it means to be yourself both in camp and in life.

Members of the URJ Camp George community co-hosted a panel with Canadian Young Judea about gender and sexuality at camp and how camps can be more inclusive for everybody, no matter where they fall on the spectrum.

When asked to draw typical camper, these Camp Newman CITs drew one who is gender-neutral.

When asked to draw typical camper, these URJ Camp Newman CITs drew one who is gender-neutral.

Before attending the San Francisco Pride Parade, URJ Camp Newman Avodah campers released a statement announcing that they were going to change a gendered Avodah tradition in an attempt to make every individual more comfortable in their camp community.

At URJ GUCI, a camp alumna spoke with the staff about how all individuals have qualities that make them unique, and all qualities, even disabilities, should be not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Read all 4 Spotlights >