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Selfish Tears

Monday, 21 May 2012

iStockPhoto © Serghei Starus

It was a rite-of-passage that many families experience: sending a child away to camp for the first time.

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.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. ZaydeGiraffe permalink
    Monday, 21 May 2012 7:00 pm

    As a long-time Camp Rabbi who had the privilege of having my kids at camp with me, I know first-hand about what you write. Further, as one who is aware of the fact that you are a very hard-working and effective Camp Rabbi, I would have to say that the loss is not only yours. So many campers’ lives would have been incredibly enriched by your presence at camp with them this summer.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 22 May 2012 3:59 pm

      Thanks. Your words mean a lot.

  2. Shellie Halprin permalink
    Monday, 21 May 2012 7:22 pm

    Hard to understand since you didn’t give up your ordination. A Rabbi you will ALWAYS be, even if you are not standing on a pulpit every week. I also love camp, which is why I really enjoyed the Jewish moms’ retreat I attended at camp last year. If you can find just such a program at a camp near you, I highly recommend it. I felt like a teenager at camp again, with slightly more grown-up programming (and a wine and cheese social!), but not without the singing, giggling, sharing and bonding with a bunch of great Jewish women. Check it out!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 22 May 2012 4:00 pm

      How wonderful that you were able to find a grown-up version right in your backyard.

  3. Tuesday, 22 May 2012 2:20 am

    I came close to going to JTS just so that I could keep going to camp. I understand.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 22 May 2012 4:00 pm

      Their loss.

  4. Tuesday, 22 May 2012 9:22 am

    Yes, that is TOUGH. I think the fact that you’d WANT to be part of a children’s camp should have superceded the rules. You’d have had so much enthusiasm and wonder to add. I never particularly liked going to camp (but I sent my children to camp anyway) because I realized looking back that I never met a counselor who wasn’t joyful to be there, to counsel, to teach, to share her/his love of nature, etc. Yes, the counselors make a huge difference in the success of a camp. They’re missing a big portion of success by not having you be part of it.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 22 May 2012 4:00 pm

      Thanks. I do understand the reasons for policies…but it is hard to accept this one.

  5. Tuesday, 22 May 2012 11:59 am

    What does this mean? “my decision to step of the pulpit has rendered me ineligible to serve as faculty at our local URJ camp”

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 22 May 2012 3:47 pm

      I am no longer on the pulpit or serving a congregation in any official capacity. And the policy at our local URJ camps is to only ask congregational rabbis/cantors/educators to serve as faculty. I am, therefore, ineligible.

  6. Monday, 28 May 2012 4:02 pm

    I went to a Catholic camp and my best friend went to a Jewish camp. We both ended up counselors at our camps and lived for summers. Ahhhh, camp. How I miss it, even as an adult.

    You know, I think the last time I commented on your blog, it was about camp! 🙂

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 29 May 2012 3:47 pm

      As our camp back home has as its unofficial motto: Camp is life. The rest is just details.

  7. Tuesday, 29 May 2012 8:04 am

    Aw, four weeks is a long time! I know I would be crying 😦 Just think of the understanding being on ‘the other side’ has given you now so you will be able to relate even more to the other parents in the future!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 29 May 2012 3:45 pm

      I’m not sad that she’s going to be gone for 4 weeks. I’m sad that I don’t get to go to camp as faculty. I’m hoping that she’ll go for all 8 weeks next year.

      So I’m not so certain that I can relate to the other parents 😉

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