Miriam Shwartz, along with her husband, Gilad, is the co-director of JCC Ranch Camp in Colorado’s Black Forest.
My first and perhaps most impactful memory of camp happened on the very first day I set foot there at age 12. I came to Ranch Camp from the distant and sometimes seemingly foreign land of Iowa. My parents were adamant that I attend a Jewish camp to make Jewish friends and strengthen my Jewish identity, as both were hard to come by in Iowa. All I cared about was that at camp I was going to get my own horse that I could ride every day (every little girl’s dream). So, I found myself utterly surprised on my first day of camp to find something that I didn’t know I was looking for – kehillah (community).
As the whole camp gathered at the flagpole that first night of camp, we formed a large circle. I remember looking around the circle and being overwhelmed by the sight of so many kids of all different sizes, shapes, and colors and knowing that they were all Jewish, just like me. It might sound silly but I didn’t know that there were so many Jews and that they could look so different. I think it was this moment that my parents had in mind when they sent me off to Ranch Camp, the moment when I understood that I was a part of a global Jewish community. At age 12, I fell in love with camp; a love affair that has lasted for 16 summers and counting. It’s not just the beautiful setting of sprawling Ponderosa Pines, wide-open pastures, crisp Colorado air, and clear blue skies, it is the intense feeling that when I am at camp, I am at home.
Each year, we choose a summer theme and this year I’m so excited that the theme will be kehillah. What better place to think about, talk about, and experience community than within the confines of camp? We will explore this concept through camper and staff programs on diversity, inclusion, sensitivity, and group dynamics. Both through structured and experiential means, we will strive to strengthen existing connections and build new ones within our small camp community. In this way, I hope to create an atmosphere for others where they can feel a sense of pride and belonging just like I did around the camp circle so many years ago.