Hi. My name is Karen Flayhart, I’m 37 years old, and I’m at camp.
If hell exists, camp would be my version of it.
My first Jewish camp experience began this Sunday when I arrived at camp with my husband—who is teaching at the camp the next two weeks—and our two and a half year old daughter. Unlike her mother, she loves camp.
Having never been a good camper—I went to a total wuss camp—I pretty much knew I’d spend the next couple of weeks moanin’ and complainin’. But as I laid in bed last night, trying not to think about all the buggies that might be hiding in the mattress (I miss DDT), I realized that I finally got the awesome impact that Jewish camp has on these kids lives—impact that I had heard about, but had never personally experienced.
(Especially since the last time I was at camp, I was singing songs about having Jesus in my heart. I don’t think those songs will work here.)
Everywhere I look at camp—in addition to seeing incredibly filthy flip-flopped feet (really, wear sneakers kids)—I see future Rabbis, Cantors, Temple Presidents, Jewish Professional Workers, and Community Leaders. I see kids of all ages praying morning, afternoon and night out in the open air. Last night, I watched them support and cheer for each other during the talent contest—something that almost anywhere else would be considered social suicide to participate in.
It made me realize that as a kid I really missed out—too concerned with what other kids thought, too afraid to be myself, to embrace the nerd that I am. I admire these kids for their courage and confidence.
I’ve seen how the camp environment nurtures these young kids, giving them a place where they are accepted for who they are, and where they can love being Jewish. Here at camp, it’s cool to speak Hebrew, to love Judaism and Israel, and want Judaism to forever be part of their lives.
And let’s face it: our Jewish community really, really, really needs these kids. We need their joy and excitement, for them to believe for at least 15 more years that they can and will make the world a better place.
As adults, it’s not only our job to make sure that they have places like camp to nurture their spirits, but to give them the tools and the resources so that they can pursue their dreams.
Providing Jewish experiences such as camp, or trips to Israel for kids, isn’t just about helping to shape Jewish identities, or ensuring there is a generation after us that gives a shit about being Jewish, staying Jewish, and raising Jewish kids.
It’s about realizing that we are now the adults—yes, even at age 37, not 57—who are supposed to help give kids opportunities to pursue their dreams—the real chance to fix what’s broken in this world.
It’s our turn to pony up. After all, we did help fuck things up.
The truth is, despite all the great stuff around me, I’ll never like being at camp myself. One word: “port-o-potties”. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate and love the impact Jewish camp has on our kids and on our community. You don’t have to have been born Jewish or attended Jewish camp to get it, or give to it.
(In case you haven’t gotten my o-so-subtle message, I’m advocating for you to dig into your wallet and give—ideally to JUF which helps support Jewish experiences and programs for Jewish kids and young adults, but it’s really none of my business where your money goes. Please, just give.)
I’ll try to remember all this tonight while I’m
forced to eat nasty ass food while fighting off mosquitos enjoying nature.
Mom: please send tequila.