This is the last in a series of four blog entries called “Why Camp?”
Part 4: Spirituality and Positive Jewish Experience at Camp Tawonga
Summer camp is the ideal environment for positive Jewish engagement because it is the place children experience what sociologist Emile Durkheim coined, “collective effervescence.” This is the uniquely powerful shared group phenomenon in which a certain “electricity” is generated that transports the participants to a higher level of spirituality. It happens when campers stand with their arms around each other watching the sunset. It happens when children’s voices are joined in joyous song. It happens when a touching story is shared around the campfire.
Such experiences require the confluence of three elements, all of which camp provides: immersion in an intentional community; removal from the mundane distractions of home; and the absence of inhibiting factors like parents, school mates etc. This combination enables enduring positive associations with whatever ritual behaviors are incorporated, thus making the camp director’s content choices extremely important. These choices are driven by the underlying mission of each camp.
At Tawonga, our mission is to create positive associations with Judaism and the global Jewish family. This goal is primarily about FEELINGS, so our choices in program, staffing and liturgy are always made with their affective value in mind. Although we hope children also pick up some knowledge of our custom and culture, our priority is to build emotional ties. There is a tradition amongst Hasidic Jews to give children a taste of honey when they start to read Hebrew so that they associate Torah with sweetness. In a parallel way, Tawonga aspires to be the experiential equivalent of that honey.
In our first blog post for The Canteen, we wrote about the first goal of Tawonga’s mission: building children’s sense of self-worth, pride and confidence. This works synchronously with our spiritual goal because a key component of self-esteem is knowing one’s own heritage. When these goals are pursued by staff who fully embrace the mission, children return from their time at camp with a new sense of personal identity, group belonging, and connectedness to their people, their history, and to the greater global community.