I Attended Jewish Summer Camp 25 Years Late - but It Still Made a Huge Impact
Principal Seymour Skinner once expounded to Bart Simpson, “Ah, there’s nothing more exciting than science. You get all the fun of sitting still, being quiet, writing down numbers, paying attention… Science has it all.”
With all due respect to the head of Springfield Elementary, Principal Skinner clearly never attended URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy! This Reform Jewish specialty summer camp has locations on both the east and west coasts.
And for me, staffing a summer at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy – West was finally my moment to arrive at the perfect summer camp – if only 25 years too late.
The summer of 1993, I was entering fourth grade and had no interest in Jewish overnight camp. My synagogue encouraged me to attend, and I had plenty of friends who went; my twin sister even spent a summer at URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI), a Reform Jewish summer camp in Zionsville, IN. My parents, who went to overnight summer camps, offered me the opportunity, but it never really seemed like the place for me. Instead, I went to a series of day camps, some Jewish, some not. The ones that stand out were a space camp, a rocket camp, and a coding camp.
If only there was an overnight camp for me to truly be me…
When the summer of 2018 approached, and I learned about the opening of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy – West, I was so excited. I quickly signed up as faculty for the camps' "Pioneer Summer," and a childish exuberance continued to build during the months leading up to the summer. My fourth-grade inner self was bursting. Had this camp existed 25 years ago, I wouldn’t have been so dismissive of camp; I would’ve signed up immediately.
To quote my own mother, this camp “would have been perfect for young Jason.”
So is this a story about a 34-year-old man who got to live some regretful childhood nostalgia? Absolutely not!
No doubt, it was personal curiosity that nudged me along, but this is a story about an amazing place that allows kids to explore, learn, create friendships, and celebrate being Jewish. Instead of the fictional principal from The Simpsons, let me turn to a real hero, the first American female astronaut Sally Ride, who preached, “Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity.” Indeed, this is the heart and soul of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy.
What I experienced during my time as faculty was jaw-dropping amazing. There was a nervous excitement as the campers, entering fourth through tenth graders, arrived for the camp’s first summer.
What would this new experience be like? Would this be the right camp for them? What would the next two weeks hold? The remarkable camp staff and counselors filled the dorm with boundless enthusiasm and colossal smiles, easing the nerves of parents, campers, and this inquisitive faculty member.
The first poster on the wall was “Our Sci-Tech West Values” with the question, as if coming from Dr. Ride herself, “Which one will inspire you today”? Subsequent posters displayed these values for full appreciation, alongside their Hebrew counterparts: heritage (moreshet), curiosity (sakranut), innovation (chidush), radical acceptance (b’tzelem Elohim), and patience and perseverance (savlanut v’hatmadah).
These campers were fun, curious, and engaged with these Jewish values as their incredible counselors and instructors expertly weaved throughout their workshops and activities. Perhaps most importantly of all, they were experiencing the third part of Dr. Ride’s quote: They were natural. I heard this echoed from campers, parents, and staff time and time again; they were themselves.
To be in a camp like this, these young people could be genuine in their identities as deep thinkers, curious minds, playful youth, and passionate Jews, all coalescing in the sacred space of community.
The wishful part of my latent youth brought me to this camp, but I left with roaring inspiration. These campers, staff, counselors, and instructors are truly remarkable pioneers, forging ahead, discovering knowledge, innovating technology, creating connections, and changing the world. They live the words written thousands of years by King Solomon in Proverbs 2:10, “for wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will delight you.”
I left their humbled student, cheerleading their quest toward unknown breakthroughs.
URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy-West is the seventheenth summer camp for the Union for Reform Judaism, a symbol of the vibrant life-giving experiences our future leaders are blessed with. Reform Jewish youth have now have 17 camp options through which to explore their identities, to find their own place as I found mine. I implore everyone to channel their youth – like I did, even if 25 years delayed –and support these oases of Jewish life.
Principal Skinner was right about one thing: Science does have it all. With the words recited at Sci-Tech each morning, “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, who gave us a world to explore, questions to ask, and a community with which to share them.” Amen v’amen.