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What Camp Taught Me about Being B’tzelem Elohim

What Camp Taught Me about Being B’tzelem Elohim

Smiling camp staffers pose in front of a bunk sign

Over dinner one evening during the winter of 2007, my mother posed a question to our family. She had been offered a job as the doctor for URJ Eisner Camp, a Reform Jewish sleepaway camp in the Berkshires, and she wanted to know if we would be interested in going. After our meal, my sister and I went upstairs where my mother put a DVD into our bulky old TV, depicting life at this camp.

My eyes were glued to the glowing screen as I watched kids rejoicing in song and prayer, playing sports, acting, swimming, and just hanging out with their friends. At one point in the video, a girl of about 13 talked about growing up at camp. In the background, Jewish artist Dan Nichols’ song “B’tzelem Elohim” (meaning “in the image of God”) played:

We've all got a life to live,
We've all got a gift to give.
Just open your heart and let it out

The girl gushed about how, at camp, she met lifelong friends who felt closer than her own family, and she found a space where she could be herself without any judgment. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be surrounded by people who knew and loved me. I wanted nothing more than to go to camp.

Year after year, I drove through the rusty gate and up the long driveway covered in a canopy of pine trees. My mother’s silver Toyota Highlander was filled to the brim with all of my belongings. As we drove bumpily along the gravel roads – from the old manor house and the greenhouses with stained glass windows that remain from an era when the property was a wealthy estate, to the new wooden cabins that were erected in the 10 months since I had last been there – I consistently felt a wave of relief wash over me.

In those moments, I knew that nothing from the last 10 months of school mattered anymore. The friends I hadn’t seen in what felt like an eternity would immediately pick up our friendships from where we left off. Year after year, we grew and changed, but everything at camp remained the same. Our feelings of sisterhood and awe for this incredible place only grew stronger with each passing summer.

My time as a camper has since come and gone, and I now have campers of my own. This summer, while singing and dancing with my campers at one of our famous song sessions, “B’tzelem Elohim” came on.

We've all got a mountain to climb.
We've all got a truth to find.
Just open your heart and let it out

I paused for a moment, watching my campers grinning from ear to ear. They were huddled in one of the many corners of the crowded octagonal auditorium, laughing with their new best friends. They probably don't know that these are the friends who will be by their sides through thick and thin for their entire lives.

With a glimmer of tears forming in my eyes, I turned to one of my coworkers, who had become a sister to me over the course of the summer. Above the noise of the entire camp singing, I told her about watching the promo video back in 2007 – how that video, and especially the song everyone was singing around us, was the reason I made that very first decision to come to camp 12 years ago.

As she wrapped me in a tight, familiar hug, I finally understood what it meant to truly live l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. I have watched the people around us grow and change, coming back year after year to a holy community – one where we all truly are b’tzelem elohim.

Registration is open for summer 2019! Find a regional or specialty summer camp at www.urjyouth.org/camps.

Shoshana Maniscalco is a current staff member and former camper at URJ Eisner Camp, a Reform Jewish summer camp in the Berkshires. She is a sophomore at Ithaca College, where she studies sociology.

 

Shoshana Maniscalco
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