Jewish& is a blog by Be’chol Lashon, which gives voice to the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. Today, with globalism and inclusion so key in making choices about engaging in Jewish life,Jewish& provides a forum for personal reflection, discussion, and debate.
“Usually I would say I want to go to camp to see all my old friends, but to be honest they are not friends. They are FAMILY! Every summer I count down the days until I go to camp because it’s that exciting. Every year I learn something new about myself. Camp Be’chol Lashon is my second home, and I can’t wait to go back this summer. I am always making new friends that I will probably know for a lifetime.” –Kenya Edelhart, age 12 Camp Be’chol Lashon
“You can pick your nose, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” — My father
This past July I met Kenya during my first summer at Camp Be’chol Lashon. I showed up for my first day at camp excited for a summer of new experiences, but also fairly confident I knew what to expect for the next three weeks. I went to Jewish summer camp as a child. I know exactly when to bang the table during Birkat, I’ve won my fair share of Ga-Ga matches and I take special pride in my friendship bracelet making ability.
While I was expecting all of those things that go along with the traditional camp experience, I guess I wasn’t exactly expecting how quickly and how deeply I would fall in love with this particular place and these people. There are many reasons this could be. It could be the tight, close knit feel. We are not a big camp. In fact, we barely make a football team. But this intimacy means we also rely on each other.
It all came together for me during some free time one early evening when I found myself in the girls bunk while the regular counselors had their daily staff meeting. While still feeling new, I was still trying to memorize camper names and personal details, like favorite hobbies and personality quirks. To pass the time, the girls were deciding on a game to play. I had a bunch of suggestions (most of which happened to be games I am also very good at), but resisted my urge to butt in as I saw that they were consumed within their new friendships. It didn’t take long before the most popular suggestion was Truth or Dare.
As the sole adult in the room, red flags went off. With memories flashing of hushed games of truth or dare ending in tears or bitter arguments, I offered a timid, “Hey guys, don’t you want to play charades instead?” Utterly failing in the age old child-supervision techniques of distraction and diversion, no matter what I said, they were intent on playing Truth or Dare. I decided to let the game play out until the inevitable moment came when things were about to get too real and I would no doubt have to Shut It Down. Except that moment never came. I watched, silently in awe of these young women, who were playing the most respectful, entertaining game of Truth or Dare I had ever witnessed.
First of all, there were ground rules. No one had to answer a question or complete a dare that they didn’t feel comfortable doing. There were your typical truths and dares: questions about love interests and dares that involved combining the most unappetizing, barely edible contents of the cabin into drinkable concoctions. The point of the game wasn’t to put people on the spot. It was apparent that the rules set in the beginning of the game allowed everyone to feel safe enough to participate and to trust those girls around them, which made them more inclined to explore their boundaries and in turn learn about themselves and others.There was room for everyone; those who were maybe a little more shy and needed to watch a few rounds before jumping in, and those that felt comfortable in this space right off the bat, even volunteering for dares that weren’t directed at them, or making their dares potentially more embarrassing.
The story of Jewish camp is one that’s been told a million times, and there are studies that say that kids who go to Jewish camp are that much more likely to be Jewishly engaged as adults. I suspect this has something to do with the power of connection. It is a powerful thing to be a part of something, to feel that there is a place where you belong, a space that would not be the same without you in it. At our camp, this is something that is apparent from the first day kids show up. So my dad was right, you can’t pick your family, but you sure can build one.