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Shabbat makes for a winning wow at JCC day camp

JCC Camps at Medford

By Aaron Greenberg, Camp Director of JCC Camps at Medford.

This story was originally printed in the Summer 2014 issue of the JCC Circle.

Jewish Overnight camps have long done a tremendous job defining Shabbat and carving out sacred space to observe it in a variety of ways. But day camps, too, have a role to play in making the “J” in Jewish camp come alive, as detailed in JCC Association’s recently published Complete Guide to JCC Day Camp. And making Shabbat separate and special, as they do at JCC Camps at Medford, is one of those ways.

WOW!

That is the word we strive to hear each day at the JCC Camps at Medford. From gaga to swim, splash park to sledding slope, ropes course to lake inflatables, and everything in between, we feel the WOW at camp. No day is the same as the next and each week is special and different. You know, it’s WOW!

Shabbat and Judaic programming at camp provide us a different WOW – a special and unique feeling that reaches every corner of camp. We can see it when more than 2,000 campers and staff all wear their camp shirts for Shabbat each Friday. We hear it when we join together to say the brachot, or blessings, as a community, and we taste it when we enjoy our wine (ok, grape juice) and challah. We feel it when our shlichim, or emissaries, infuse Israeli culture into every aspect of camp. We hear it as we welcome community rabbis and leaders to camp, who join with us to welcome Shabbat by bringing stories, games, and other fun activities. When we unwound a Torah scroll last summer as part of the Mandel Center for Jewish Education’s TAG unit, “Touching Torah,” we offered a tangible, tactile interaction with the most important Jewish ritual object that exists.

Tradition, tradition!

Since the JCC Camps at Medford were founded in 1945 in Camden, New Jersey, we have included a Shabbat component to Friday activities. We have maintained this tradition, an integral part of our mission, as we moved in 1961 to our present site in Medford, New Jersey, and as we have grown and changed with the times and to meet the needs of our camp families.

Shabbat, and how we experience it, is timeless. And these are valuable experiences to have at a Jewish camp with Jewish children. Singling out Shabbat and making it special for all infuses a sense of spirituality into the camp program, makes Fridays unique, and leads families into a weekend of rest and family time. As families and the Jewish community as a whole continue to evolve and change, it is even more important to continue this practice and to provide opportunities to appreciate the richness of Judaism including Shabbat, and its relevance today and going forward. The faces of our weekly Shabbat abba, or father, and ema, mother, glow with pride as they lead the blessings. This gives them more than a sense of accomplishment. It gives them a profound connection to our Jewish past and their own Jewish pride.

Bringing Israel to camp

Our camp is more than just a camp for Jewish children, however. We are a Jewish camp that welcomes all to join us. From the moment we arrive at camp each day, we are met with the words bruchim habaim (literally, bless those who enter, or welcome) and Hebrew signage everywhere. We start each day singing Hatikvah, the Israel national anthem. Our Israeli shlichim provide us with a daily taste of Israel with a Hebrew word-of-the-day, Israeli games, music, dance, art, and by just getting to know our campers and our staff. During the course of the summer, we have Israel Day, Ruach (Spirit) Week, and of course Maccabiah Week! Our Israel Day is one of the biggest and best WOWs of all, as we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and experience Israel with games, activities, food, dance, music and more. Our whole camp is bathed in blue and white. Sometimes the Israel Scouts visit us or maybe a Jewish performer such as Rick Recht. Some weeks we do an Israel “archaeological dig.” Even our climbing wall, emblazoned with a map of the Jewish state, says “Israel” in no uncertain terms!

But back to Shabbat, there is something different in the air as we load the buses each Friday afternoon, a bit tired, a little dirty and sweaty, but content that we have enjoyed a WOW week at Camp. We can take a much needed Shabbat rest and return on Monday recharged and ready for what new WOW’s are in store. Feel the Ruach!

Aaron Greenberg is camp director of JCC Camps at Medford, the largest Jewish day camp in North America, serving children age 3-14 in six different camps.

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