Why summer camps are better than shuls at inspiring our youth

Why summer camps are better than shuls at inspiring our youth

By Rabbi Neil JANES, The Liberal Jewish Synagogue.

Neil Janes crop
Rabbi Neil Janes

I was interviewed recently about Jewish education. The wide-ranging talk lasted more than an hour. What became clear during the conversation was the profound impact my youth movement experience with RSY-Netzer has had on me.

I’m not talking about the narrow field of my outlook on Zionism, although that was certainly part of it – but my growth as a person. Looking back on many happy summers spent as a participant on UK-based camps Israel trips and my years as a volunteer staff member and office worker, I can see the profound impact it had on who I am today.

Without it, I am certain I would not be able to serve the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in the same way. For all these reasons, and more, I am the most evangelical about youth movements at our synagogue committee meetings and inspired when a young person describes to me the positive experience they had at events held by LJY Netzer – the Liberal Judaism youth movement.

Now is the season when my Twitter feed is filled with leaders preparing summer activities – learning, discussing, thinking and planning. Soon, hundreds of young people will participate in youth movement’s programmes from across the religious and political spectrum. This is the place where leadership begins to be nurtured, where commitment is engendered and passionate belief – not necessarily of the religious variety – is imbued in our young.

For years, synagogues have wished they could do as much in their religion schools as a youth movement does for two weeks at a boarding school in Wales for young people. They innovate in their educational methods, bring youth movement volunteers in to run sessions and even try and recreate the magic of camp. But the truth is they will ever be a match.

Though it pains me to say it, I do not think the synagogue will ever be a match for the educational value of a youth movement. They will never be able to compare with the voluntary, non-coerced, decisions to participate – not driven by a bar or batmitzvah – typified by a youth movement experience. A synagogue may never be able to compete with the depth of friendship formed on summer camp. And socialisation, it seems, is the key to people making positive Jewish choices in their lives (which is not a euphemism for marrying a Jew, but rather for engaging positively with doing and living Jewishly). I was recently reminded of the bond of friendship cemented in those formative years when I received countless offers of support during a particularly difficult time.

When you’ve spent a summer camp in the company of other young adults, staying up late to ensure the next day’s activities are organised and that the youngsters are appropriately cared for, a unique faithfulness to one another is engendered. You will dress up like David Ben Gurion just because it’s part of the programming that day.

You will give up your night off because another leader is feeling down and needs some time out. You will feel honoured to be charged with the responsibility of caring for someone else’s children and give your time freely for the future of the Jewish people and the betterment of the world. And you’ll talk about what that means daily – perhaps hourly. You will fall in love and out of love and back in love again. And some of those bonds of friendship will be the bonds for life and, possibly, for the next generation too.

This summer I will be giving support to LJY Netzer for its summer camps. I cannot wait to be inspired again. I will be invigorated by the idealism of youth – challenged by the most pressing needs of the community. I cannot wait. This column is a tribute to the hundreds of young women and men from across the community who will be volunteering hours and hours of their time.

Acknowledgement of what you do cannot be given often or publically enough. Thank you.

• Rabbi Janes is an occasional blogger and can be followed on twitter @rabbineiljanes

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