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Beth Ahabah Voices: Earl Ferguson

12/21/2016 03:06:27 PM

Dec21

One of the most delightful parts of my position as Chair of North American Camping and Israel Programs for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is that I get the opportunity to visit the various camps around North America.  Most of our congregants are not aware that the URJ own the largest group of non-profit Jewish Camps in the world!  As of writing there are 16 of them. They are (in no particular order)

  • 6 Points Sci-Tek, Massachusetts
  • 6 Points Sports Greensboro, North Carolina
  • 6 Points Sports Los Angeles. California
  • Camp Newman, Santa Rosa California
  • Greene Family Camp, Bruceville, Texas
  • Henry S. Jacobs Camp, Jackson, Mississippi
  • Camp Coleman, Cleveland, Georgia
  • Camp Harlam, Kunkletown, Pennsylvania
  • Day Camp Harlam, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Eisner Camp, Great Barrington, Massachusetts
  • Crane Lake Camp, West Stockbridge, Massachusetts
  • Goldman Union Camp Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin
  • Camp George, Ontario, Canada
  • Camp Kalsman, Arlington, Washington
  • Kutz Camp, Warwick, New York

This summer I had the pleasure of visiting California’s Camp Newman, and the new 6 Points Sports LA Camp, as well as Greene Family Camp in Texas. I have previously visited just about all of the rest of them. They are, in a word, wonderful. While the facilities contain just about everything that a summer camp should…from swimming pools to tennis courts to soccer fields to arts and crafts areas…they also contain something very very special…their staffs. I have known each of the Camp Directors for years…they are incredibly dedicated people who care about each and every camper. In addition the summer staffs are very well trained in their specialty and very well trained on Reform Jewish Values to be imparted to the campers.

Perhaps the most magical part of the week at the URJ Camps is Shabbat. You have to see it to believe it. About 6pm every Friday one of the song leaders starts walking through the camp playing guitar and singing Jewish folk songs. All (and I do mean ALL) of the campers and staffs fall in behind in a beautifully disorganized group of young people, generally dressed in various color pants or skirts, and white tops. With everyone singing they make their way to the (generally outdoor) chapels for a wonderful, joyous Kabbalat Shabbat service led by other campers. Everyone sings. Everyone prays.  Everyone experiences the joy of Shabbat…truly amazing.

Saturday morning brings Shabbat services including a camper run Torah reading. The rest of the morning and afternoon is devoted to nontraditional activities to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week. And then, after Saturday dinner comes a very very special Havdallah Service…a beautiful sight to behold. The sun is setting. The air is filled with song and the campers are filled with emotion. They are so very proud to be Jewish and they express it in song, in dance, in poetry, in just being young people “hangin with their peeps.” When asked years later what their favorite part of camp was, invariably the response is “Shabbat”.

I have attended many Shabbats at many of our URJ Camps…and each one is fantastic, emotional, and joyous. I am privileged to be around these young people…they are quite special.

Editor’s Note:

This is part of a new series written by and about the members of Beth Ahabah. If you would like to submit an article about a friend or family member at Beth Ahabah, or your own adventures, avocations or interesting career, please contact Lori Allen in the Temple office at l.allen@bethahabah.org.

Tue, July 23 2019 20 Tammuz 5779