By Eva Bogomolny
“What do you want to do with a degree in Jewish education?” This question – has been posed to me so many times that I have now formed a polished and rehearsed answer. “I’d love to fill my year as a teacher and my summers with camp.” Now that schools are closed – and with each coming day, it seems that my optimism that camps will open for the summer is slipping away – I have needed to rethink this answer. While schools and camps are the institutions where I see myself, they are not what will define what I want to do as a Jewish educator.
“For the kids” is a phrase that is often thrown around my summer camp home. While this is sometimes used ironically, while toiling at less than desirable tasks, we say it as a mantra to remind us of our mission. When this camp that I have attended and worked at since 2006 recently announced that they would not be opening for the summer 2020 season, I wondered what camp would be able to do “for the kids.” Unlike ever before, institutions need to adapt and innovate, outside of their given framework, in order to remain relevant while supplanting the support that community members would have absorbed on-site.
The would-be first-time camper now has to wait one more year to experience the noise level inside of the Chadar-Ochel during the first night of camp. The camper who has accrued memories, bonding, and experiences throughout their growing years will now miss the seniority and closure they deserve. The camper who confides in a counselor that they feel camp is the only place they can be themselves will have to wait another year. And the camper who expresses loudly how much they hate being at camp, yet comes back year after year, will have to find something else to hate.
While it would be easy to dwell on all of the things that will not be, right on our screens are things that will be. Within a day of announcing the closure of camp, the community put together a camp Shabbat Zoom service. As I reluctantly logged onto yet another Zoom call, I was greeted by 150 fellow camp community members past, present, and future. I scrolled and saw the counselors to whom I once looked up, alongside the campers who looked up to me. Three generations of song leaders led us through a beautiful Shabbat service with our beloved familiar camp tunes. While not in our camp chapel, we sat in our homes as we welcomed Shabbat with our families beside us.
On this call, we were able to escape for a few moments. While it seemed as if camp was crumbling before us, we were able to recreate something from the pieces. As I scrolled through the mosaic of faces, I was reminded that camp does not have to be contained to the “famous” zip code that we know and love. In this Zoom call, the time-space continuum of camp was broken as generations joined together from all across the globe. The magic of camp entered all of our homes. As we sang together “Bless This House,” a song that is sung ritually on the last night of each camp session, we were reminded to “think of all the happiness we found here, take it home and share it with a friend.”
We all logged on for the kids we were, for the kids we are, and for the kids that will be. The next time I am asked what I want to do with a degree in Jewish education, I will say I want to be there “for the kids,” wherever, however, and whenever that might be.
Eva Bogomolny is completing her first year as student at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS. She is pursuing a degree in Pedagogy and Teaching with a concentration in Disability Inclusion and Advocacy. She currently works as a religious school teacher at the West End Synagogue and spent 13 summers at Camp Wise in Cleveland, Ohio. She plans to spend summer 2020 working at Camp Settoga.
This is the second in a series of articles published by graduate-level students at The William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. The student authors focus on their experiences as Jewish educators as they balance being both the student and teacher during this extraordinary and unprecedented time.