Note: This is a continuation of Camp!
Shwayder was different from other camps that I have experienced in several ways. First, the campers and staff are mad with ruach and enthusiasm. The song and dance sessions – sometimes planned and sometimes impromptu – went on for hours at a time and the kids had a ton of pride, both camp pride and Jewish pride. (One song’s lyrics: “I love Shwayder and Shwayder loves me!” over and over again.) There is a prayer service each day at 5:30 pm, which is a combination of traditional Hebrew prayer and a unique service developed by a bunk to share with the camp. All services are held outdoors when possible and the creativity is fantastic.
At the same time, the absence of Jewish education and religious content was striking. The rabbi is not really allowed to teach the laws of kosher and Sabbath because they don’t want the experience to be ‘too religious’ and I was surprised to see pizza served at the same meal as hotdogs, and cheese and chicken on the same salad bar. Also, a large number of the staff had tattoos, something traditionally frowned upon in Judaism.
As the week went on, these things normalized and grew on me a bit more. The kitchen doesn’t cook the meat and milk together – the food selections are put out there so that each person can make their own choice. Though it’s not necessarily the religious environment in which I would place my current (non-existent) children, I dig that there is flexibility and acceptance for people to live as they choose. There are campers who are openly gay and that is accepted, and a senior member of the camp administration is engaged to a non-Jew and that is accepted, as well. I wonder if there is much that wouldn’t be accepted in that camp setting (aside from safety and legal issues, of course).
We head to Ramah Outdoor Adventure, another Jewish camp, this afternoon. It will be fun to continue the camp theme for the week, and will also be interesting religiously to experience the transition of environments from Reform (Shwayder) to Conservative (Ramah) to pluralistic and Orthodox as I continue to travel in the coming two weeks.
Eight camps in one summer – boy, am I making up for lost time!
posted by ayo