By Rabbi Jason Levine
As one who did not go to overnight camp growing up, the concept of creating such close friendships with people you didn’t see for 90% of the year always baffled me. How could such bonds be so genuine and so deep when they were often spaced out months apart?
But in the years I’ve spent serving as Faculty at URJ Camp Kalsman, I have received a thorough education in the incredible power of camp friendships. This year especially, what I witnessed wasn’t just smiles of old pals and hugs from buddies, but true connection, support, and care in powerful and meaning ways.
In every unit, every age group, I witnessed campers embracing and sustaining each other after long days, giving each other deep and earnest advice when they were perplexed or wrestling with a situation or issue, cheering each other on when someone endeavored to conquer a new activity or goal, and perhaps most importantly of all, consoling their friends when in moments when they might be struggling. While URJ Camp Kalsman is no doubt blessed with a remarkable staff of counselors and dedicated adult ledaers, seeing campers care for each other speaks directly to the power of friendships, and it warms my heart to a mighty level.
Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Sages, calls this Jewish value “dibbuk chaverim / cleaving to friends,” and it is considered one of the 48 highest values of learned Torah scholars. The friendships formed at URJ Camp Kalsman, and in countless camps across the nation, truly are the living representation of this deeply important Jewish value.
The Talmud (Ta’anit 7a) guides us, “I have learned much from my teachers, but from my friends more than my teachers.” This is a crucial lesson that we must be reminded of over and over again. The motivation for building a camp is to create an environment in which students can meet, connect, bond, deepen their friendships, and care for each other. As much as we, the adult supporters and camp enthusiasts, may endeavor to instruct them, nothing can be compared to what is learned from their peers. There may be memories of swings, song sessions, s’mores, swimming, and dare I say it, Torah study, but absolutely nothing can come close to what is gained through camp friendships.
I am always so incredibly honored to come serve as Faculty at URJ Camp Kalsman, but this year, my education was additionally significant. As lucky as I am to be present, to teach, and to engage with camp life, I am overwhelmingly inspired by how much these campers teach, comfort, and support each other. I am humbled by our campers and their remarkable friendships, and I am so proud to be their student this summer. I hope they cleave to these friendships and they do truly last a lifetime – I have a pretty good feeling that they will.
Rabbi Jason Levine is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Seattle, Washington. He served as Faculty for his 5th summer at URJ Camp Kalsman and looks forward to many more to come.