Blog  Our Holy Communities

Our Holy Communities

By Briana Holtzman, Assistant Director.

Anyone who has attended a presentation about camp from David or I has probably heard us say that we have the best jobs in the world. For the last five years I’ve had the joy of working on camp logistics, spending summers outside picking blueberries, overhearing conversations about how cool it is to be Jewish, watching campers try things for the first time, and seeing friendships blossom over the years. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to people the full extent of my job, especially when people think camp is just about the summer.

Honestly, it’s not only the summer that makes my job the best. We encourage our campers to take their experiences at camp home with them; to share with their families, their synagogues, to infuse their Kalsman experience into their daily lives. As the place that brings together Jewish kids from all over the Pacific Northwest, Camp Kalsman welcomes campers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia and further… and I get to travel and visit most of these places. It really is a highlight of my job to visit congregations and groups to see just how our campers, staff, and faculty have accomplished that great task. Over the past few months I’ve flown and driven thousands of miles to visit communities and talk about camp.

Each visit is unique and special, and in each community I learn about something that I want to remember to take back with me this summer. A whirlwind of travel started in October with visits to many congregations but I’ve been thinking a lot about the last month. January 1st, I headed down to visit PARR, the Pacific Area Reform Rabbi’s Conference. Our faculty members are so important to the success of camp and the chance to meet with them and get input and ideas for the upcoming summer is great. There were many great moments, but in an effort to follow my own advice, I keep coming back to one thing I would like to make sure to bring back to camp with me – joy in prayer. Never before had I heard such enthusiasm (and beautiful harmonies) at the chanting of Birkat Hamazon – and, yes, there may have been some percussion on the tables and clapping of hands but all in true thankfulness. This summer I hope that we are able to teach beyond the words and really get to the intention of prayer at camp.

After a few days at home, I headed out to Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, ID. There I was greeted by an incredible community with such energy. In the first year of a new religious school format, their curriculum and class style changes week to week. This community helped me to remember the importance of flexibility not only with their program but also when students requested an aerial screening of our video. If not a camp presentation, then when? I can say with certainty that weekend in January was the first time we had ever shown the Camp Kalsman promo video on the ceiling of a synagogue.

The following weeks were filled with two more examples of community. First, at URJ Camp Newman’s West Coast Party, a gathering of teenagers from all over the west coast I couldn’t help but be energized by the future of the Reform Movement. Whether making dozens of fleece blankets for local homeless shelters, participating in high school written and facilitated programming, or enjoying a concert by Dan Nichols & Eighteen, these NFTYites and Camp/Israel Alumni were the epitome of Jewish pride and involvement. Catching up with Kalsman campers and staff members helped me to see the role camp plays in their lives.  If anyone gets taking camp home with them, our teens and staff members are great examples of the impact of camp. They even brought a little bit of Kalsman down to Camp Newman during lunch time! My major takeaway from a few days in Santa Rosa was remembering how motivated and involved our high school campers, and college aged staff are – and the obligation we have at camp to enhance skills and empower those who will soon lead the movement.

I’ll close with my last trip of January – Shabbaton on the Slopes in Girdwood, Alaska. If only I had a camper registered for every time someone asked me, “are there really Jews in Alaska?”, we might not have any spots left! But yes, yes, there are Jews in Alaska – and they are spirited, and they are welcoming, and they are inspiring. Although the travel was long and the visit was short – I was welcomed with open arms and lots of interest in camp. Everywhere I turned I saw involved families, kids  having a blast doing art projects with Avi, and high schoolers involved in fun programming. We enjoyed hot cocoa and cookies on Saturday afternoon and talked about camp. We danced together as Naomi Less shared her music and spirit. They reminded me a lot about Kalsman – just how important it is to make a community from lots of different people, from lots of different places and make them all feel at home.

Camp isn’t just during the summer, truly, the spirit of camp is felt anytime we are able to join together in kehilah kedosha, a holy community. What is most incredible to me is that this is just a small sampling of the incredible communities we have a chance to visit and while each is unique – the feeling of belonging is at every one. We can’t wait to welcome you home to another summer at Camp Kalsman.