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Lessons I Learned on a Camping Trip with 20 Jews

Lessons I Learned on a Camping Trip with 20 Jews

When Congregation Hakafa of Glencoe, IL, publicized its four-day camping and canoe trip in Michigan, how could we resist such an unusual temple offering?

I admit that I was tempted to resist, since my husband and I hadn't camped and done daily river canoe tripping in decades, but he convinced me not to worry – almost.

In anticipation, I knew just what I should worry about. Would I get any sleep for three nights in a row lying in an uncomfortable sleeping bag in a tent? Could I endure that much canoe paddling in an adept and continuous way? Would I feel uneasy with a group who mostly knew each other from previous congregation camping outings and had probably already developed into their own tight community?

What I learned was that worry is not a reliable predictor of future reality.

What I predicted would be my challenges were not what I should have worried about.

I didn't predict that I wouldn't sleep the first night – not due to any physical discomfort but rather from the nonstop torrential rainstorm that was noisier hitting the canvas than sitting next to a drum sextet (nor could I have guessed we'd be the only completely dry tent of the dozen).

I didn't predict that I would step on an underground yellow jacket nest and get eight sting bites on my hand, ankle, and foot (nor could I have known I wouldn't have an allergic reaction, thankfully, or that I could cover up the level of pain I felt for the next few days).

I didn't predict how much I would love our daily four-hour paddles on three distinct rivers, the fun around mealtimes, the joy of unplugging, the welcoming, inclusive nature of fellow congregant campers, and the spirituality of spending even just a few days in glorious nature.

I certainly didn't predict that I might want to do this again next year.

In this month of Elul, as I reflect on so much, I recognize that I can't predict what challenges or opportunities lie ahead but I can predict that trying to read the future isn't nearly as productive as living to the fullest every day. Taking reasonable risks, diving into building new community, and deepening relationships are predictors of ways to grow in partnership with others. Bring on the new year.

Kerry Leaf is the director of North American board engagement and development for the Union for Reform Judaism. She partners with exceptional lay leadership from congregations throughout the United States and Canada, facilitating their work with URJ staff, partners, and affiliates to strengthen congregations, promote audacious hospitality, engage our youth, and work towards tikkun olam (repairing the world). Kerry also served as past president of five non-profit boards, but her most challenging and rewarding volunteer presidency was of her former synagogue. She is currently a member of Am Shalom and Congregation Hakafa, both located in Glencoe, IL.


Kerry Leaf
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