By Jordan Williams
Camp is a fun-filled and diverse place. That’s why it is not surprising that there are a multitude of answers when people describe their favorite aspects of URJ Camp Kalsman. While common answers like the tower, the swing, art, sports, or similar activities are wonderful, two parts of camp may trump everything else… Community and Shabbat.
Every day I hear campers and staff mention how they made a new friend, bonded with their cabin, had a fun time with so-and-so, or were comforted by a peer while missing home. The abundance of comments speaks for itself; it is the reason why kids come to camp and the reason why they return year-after-year. Kalsman is a loving environment and a Kehilah Kedoshah, a holy community.
While our holy community welcomes everyone and brings us all together, most of camp’s programs are separated into smaller groups or by age. Our chugim (morning activities) consist of smaller group activities divided by unit, programming is often split by age, and each day contains time dedicated to cabin bonding. Even during meal time when everyone is together in the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall), campers sit by cabin. This, of course, is purposeful and necessary. Such is the reason why campers often become lifelong friends with their bunkmates, and, logically, kids want to spend time and connect with their appropriate cohort.
So what distinguishes Shabbat at URJ Camp Kalsman? During our five weekdays (Sunday-Thursday), there is normality and there is routine. Shabbat is the deviation from the norm. Shabbat has been the cornerstone of the Jewish people for thousands of years; the day of rest, the day of rejuvenation, and the day of G-d. As the spirit of Shabbat begins to enter camp, the holiness of the day can clearly be felt by all.
This connects to this summer’s camp theme of Mitzvot (Commandments) as well. The Torah commands us to “remember and observe Shabbat to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8 & Deut. 5:12). Every Friday and Saturday, Kalsman fulfills these two mitzvot by taking steps to sanctify Shabbat. The arrival of Shabbat revives old tradition while always bringing something new to the table as well. One of the most integral parts is reconciling our Kehilah Kedoshah.
On Friday mornings, we have all camp programs that bring together new groups of people and unite everyone as we all participate in similar activities. After lunch and rest time, we reach my favorite time of the week. An hour-long program that truly establishes that the Sabbath is upon us… finally all-camp swim has arrived!
To the unknowing eye, all-camp swim may not appear to be such a big deal. How could swimming, basketball, and free time be a step towards sanctifying the holiest time of the week? Yet any experienced Kalsmanite can recognize the importance of this seemingly-insignificant hour. All-camp swim brings everyone together in the same place with one goal: have fun and relax. After a very busy week, all camp swim is essential to welcoming Shabbat.
After all-camp swim, the stage is set for Shabbat. We enjoy Friday evenings with our unforgettable Shabbat stroll, exciting Kabbalat Shabbat service, elegant dinner, and electric Shabbat Shira (song session) with Israeli dancing. The average Kalsman Shabbat also welcomes back former staff members and invites members of the Jewish community to join us for a singular experience as they enter alongside the Kallah (Shabbat bride).
After an extra hour of sleep, we awaken to meals with free seating, Torah reading on our new art center’s dance pavilion, Chofesh (three hours in which campers get to choose their own activities), and, finally, Havdalah around the campfire to mark the commencement of the new week. As a staff member, I have had the pleasure to witness the transformation of our Kehilah Kedoshah on Shabbat week-after-week for the past three summers. Shabbat is often unique and awe-inspiring in most Jewish communities, yet there is something extraordinary about Kalsman Shabbat that makes it so meaningful and vital for me as well as the entire Kalsman community.
Once I am no longer working at Kalsman, I will reflect on my Kalsman Shabbat experience with pure bliss. I will reminisce about the bonds forged on Shabbat, the laughs I’ve shared, and the uncontainable energy that is unleashed every Friday night. Nonetheless, one tradition will always be difficult to leave behind: all-camp swim. As one of my all-time favorite pre-Shabbat traditions, I will always cherish these memories. Nothing will replace watching as the whole camp unites to sanctify our Kehilah Kedoshah before the holiest time of the week.