Photo courtesy Shira Moskowitz

How Jewish Camping Got Me To Move To Mississippi

My family and friends back home were baffled when I announced that, upon graduating from college, I would be moving to Jackson, Mississippi. After all, it isn’t exactly the most common thing for a Jewish girl from New York to do.

Why was I so drawn to the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, so much so that I had decided to move over 1,000 miles away from home?

When I think about what inspired me to set out on my Southern adventure, I am whisked back fifteen years ago, to my first summer at Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Eisner is one of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) sleep-away camps. Even as an 8 year old, I was already proud of my Jewish heritage and culture. But at camp, I was able to view Judaism in a different light. At camp, everything we did was Jewish, whether it was playing sports, performing in a play, or relaxing under a tree during free time. We were constantly learning to build an inclusive and distinctly Jewish community. I connected with the other campers, kids my own age who were “doing Jewish” along with me. I instantly gained a network of Jewish role models in the counselors and instructors who guided us.

Of course, at the time I did not realize the impact that camp was having (and would continue to have) on creating my Jewish identity. But looking back, I know that camp is where I learned the importance of being part of a Jewish community and how to be a Jewish leader which is exactly what brought me to the ISJL. As an Education Fellow I am able to work with congregations to help enhance and build Jewish communities that strive to make Judaism exciting and fun for people of all ages.

While I am ecstatic to bring my love for Judaism outside of what we call the “Eisner Bubble,” it has been equally difficult to spend my first summer away from my beloved camp since 2001. So I was happy to hear that the Fellows would get to spend a Shabbat at Jacobs Camp, the URJ camp in Utica, Mississippi.

Lake Gary at Jacobs Camp. Photo by Shira Moskowitz
Lake Gary at Jacobs Camp. Photo by Shira Moskowitz

Oddly enough, although I had never been to Jacobs until this year, I have a deeply rooted connection to Jacobs. Both of my parents worked at Jacobs. My mom even attributes her decision to become a rabbi to her summers there. For my Bat Mitzvah, which took place less than a year after Hurricane Katrina, I asked guests to donate to a scholarship fund for Jacobs campers that had been affected by the storm that enabled them to return to camp. Even as a seventh grader, I understood the positive impact camp has on an individual’s Jewish identity and personal growth.

Being at camp gave me a small taste of home down here in Mississippi. Not only are some of my friends from Eisner now staff members at Jacobs, but the music and prayers that were sung on Shabbat were the same ones I grew up with at camp. My Shabbat experience at Jacobs served as a powerful reminder for why I decided to move to Jackson, and why I have chosen this career path. I hope that over the course of the next two years I will be able to create an environment where students are able to develop their Jewish identities and their connection to their communities in the way in which I was able to at camp.

And I’m glad that even if my “home camp” is far away, the camp just up the road in Utica also already feels like home.

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