A Transformational Camp Experience – for Adults

[Camp Nai Nai Nai, Moishe House’s Jewish summer camp for young adults, provides an opportunity for Jewish young adults from across the country to gather for a multi-night Jewish immersive experience. The first Camp Nai Nai Nai was held at Capital Camps in Pennsylvania in 2017. In 2018, Moishe House expanded Camp Nai Nai Nai to the West Coast, now hosting camps in Pennsylvania and California.]

By Josh Neirman

If you asked me a year ago to go to Jewish summer camp for adults, I would have dismissed it. I would have told you it was too expensive, that I never went to summer camp growing up, and that I didn’t want to spend a long weekend in nature with a bunch of strangers. Fast-forward a few months and there I was, with 200+ other Jewish young adults, gathered in tight-knit concentric circles with our arms around each other, slowly swaying to the left and then to the right as everyone joined in traditional Havdala prayer accompanied by guitars and drums. I was at Camp Nai Nai Nai, a Jewish summer camp for adults, where everyone was welcome.

You may ask what changed in that one year? Well there was a staff member at Moishe House (the organization that powers Camp Nai Nai Nai) who saw something in me. He saw that I could be a leader in the Jewish community and help others find their own meaningful expression of their Judaism by being a camp counselor. The most transformative moment I experienced at Camp occurred in the dining room on Sunday afternoon, when I came out in my Superman t-shirt prepared to help lead my color war team to victory. I realized in that moment that I could be my true self at camp, expressing my Jewish identity in the way that most resonated with me. I could form friendships with those who were also looking for community. I felt empowered as I was able to help campers find the magic in being part of the Jewish community.

I was able to take Camp home with me. The friendships that started at Camp have now continued back in Washington, DC. Many of my campers have reached out to me about getting involved in the Jewish community. There have also been many grassroots gatherings initiated by campers, including plenty of “alumNai” reunions on Shabbat afternoons around bagels and lox or attending local events together.

I know some may be skeptical of the long-term impact of an experience that lasts for just one long weekend. But many of the attendees were searching for new friends and connections with their fellow Jews or looking to reconnect “Jewishly,” and a Jewish summer camp for adults is one of the best places to provide that experience. It provides an immersive Jewish experience with opportunities to learn, grow, build community, be yourself and for many, a continuation of their Jewish journey.

There have been numerous studies about how going to summer camp as a youth translates to Jewish engagement later on in life. I think the same can now be said for attending Jewish summer camp as an adult. For me personally, the camp and camp staff experience has been profound. Because of my experience at Camp, and the impact it had on me and on others, I decided to enroll in a graduate school program focusing on experiential education and Jewish cultural arts. Now my example may be a little out of the norm, but I think Jewish summer camp for adults is something that more and more people are wanting and that could change more and more people’s lives.

You can have your own transformative experience at Camp Nai Nai Nai. Registration is now open for East Coast camp (May 24-27, 2019 in Waynesboro, PA) and West Coast camp (August 23-25, 2019 in Santa Cruz, CA. Learn more at campnainainai.org, and follow Camp Nai Nai Nai on Facebook and @jewishsummercamp on Instagram for details, testimonials from past campers and other great videos.

Josh Neirman is currently a master’s candidate at George Washington University’s Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts program where he is currently an intern at OneTable’s DC office. Prior to his graduate studies Josh was working for a nonprofit that provided permanent and affordable housing for adults in mental health recovery in Montgomery County, Maryland. In his free time Josh can be found hosing Shabbat dinners and Shabbat bagel brunches through Moishe House Without Walls. Josh is originally from Vermont where he developed a love of maple syrup from a young age and graduated from the University of Vermont with a BA in environmental studies. This will be Josh’s second year at Camp Nai Nai Nai as a counselor. His favorite part about camp is that it allows people to be their true authentic selves and develop lasting friendships.