But it’s not one that I actually expected. Or, at least, not in the typical fashion. I had always assumed that my kids would attend JewCamp. But I also assumed that I would serve as faculty for part, if not all, of their time up at camp. So the “send-off” would be far less dramatic since the kids would be leaving from faculty housing and walking over to their section of camp.
It so happens, much to my surprise and consternation, that my decision to step of the pulpit has rendered me ineligible to serve as faculty at our local URJ camp. While I can appreciate the reasoning behind the policy, it came as a complete shock. And utter disappointment. I love camp. And I love that my very grown-up career allowed me to continue to spend time at camp…long past the age that I would otherwise have been able to go to camp. It was something to which I looked forward every year, knowing that I would work hard and return home energized. And knowing that the work I did with campers would have long-reaching impacts. But yesterday was different. I was like any other parent on the camp tour. Seeing the camp as an observer. Never to be a participant. Or a facilitator.
Though they do not all look identical, there is a certain…taam that all Jewish camps share. A kind of feeling. I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to articulate what it is since we first drove through the gate yesterday. But it was familiar. And welcoming.
Like the prayer space.
Every Jewish camp I have visited, attended, staffed, or served has had an outdoor prayer space. It is, I think, part of the silver bullet that makes JewCamp so darn magical. Whether it’s known as the Outdoor Chapel, the Beit T’filah, or the Chapel on the Hill, the space is sacred. It feels inherently sacred. Nestled among trees that have stood for hundreds of years or overlooking a majestic ocean. Even when the physicality among the different spaces is nothing alike, they seem to share some common essence. It will come as no surprise that these prayer spaces have always been my favourite locations at camp. As a camper and as a rabbi.
And it was in the Chapel in the Woods that I was unable to hold them from escaping. I am sure that the camp staff is accustomed to parents crying. The tears that welled up in my eyes, though, were not for my daughter. They were not because she is growing up so quickly (which she is). Or because a four-week separation seems like a long time to be apart (depending on the day). The tears were for me. They were for me. And they were for my loss.