How Jewish camp prepared me for a career in the Jewish world (maybe)
By Paige Gutter
If you asked me as a teen if I could see myself one day working full-time as a Jewish communal professional, I would have laughed out loud.
Back then, I never could have imagined that someone like me, someone who admittedly goes out to eat directly after morning services on Yom Kippur every year, would feel at home working in the Jewish world. And why would the Jewish world even want me?
And yet here I am today, a college senior working on my second internship with a major Jewish organization.
I keep asking myself lately, how did I get here?
I believe it’s possible to trace this decision all the way back to my first summer attending Camp Livingston in Indiana in 2006 at the age of 9. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those 10 consecutive summers I spent at Jewish sleep-away camp placed my feet imperceptibly on the path to working in the Jewish world.
My Jewish camp experience taught me a great deal about myself and offered me valuable life lessons. Above all, it helped me discover how and when I feel most connected to Judaism – through my friends, through Jewish peoplehood.
Don’t get me wrong: I have a lot of respect for other ways people find meaning in Judaism – ritual, prayer and text study, among them. But for me, Judaism means kehillah, community. And that I learned that at camp.
The most Jewish I have ever felt was at camp on Friday nights.
After Shabbat dinner, my friends and I would head to the beit am for Israeli dancing before bunching up on a grassy field, wet with dew, before the warm glow of a giant menorah. Leaning up against each other, we would listen to Friday night services. We didn’t understand what the prayers meant – not at first, anyway – but we didn’t care. The point was that we were together.
When I began college at Miami University in the fall of 2015, I was surprised to discover that I could recapture that feeling of being at Jewish summer camp at Hillel.
When I attended the Welcome Back Barbeque my first week of classes in college, I recall seeing booths offering varying ways to get involved in Hillel, but beyond the booths were people just like me – tie-dying, eating, hanging out. I felt like I was back at camp. I had found the feeling of community I knew I wanted in college and would need to succeed those four years.
Through serving as a Hillel Engagement Intern on campus, I’ve had broad exposure to this movement and the people who inhabit it. I’ve met people who wear kippot, people who speak fluent Hebrew, and people who can’t always remember all the words of the Hamotzi. They all have a place at the Shabbat table. They all belong.
Unconsciously traveling this camp-to-Hillel pipeline has taught me that I have a contribution to make to Jewish peoplehood, even if Torah study is not a big part of my life.
As a communications intern for Hillel International this summer, I am not writing D’vrei Torah, but I am telling stories of college students across the full spectrum of Jewish expression and identity. And these stories, I hope, help to link and strengthen the Jewish people.
Most of all, I’ve learned that I am enough.
Today if you ask me if I envision myself working full-time in the Jewish world after graduation next year, the honest answer would be that I still don’t know.
But I am not laughing at the question.
Paige Gutter is a rising senior at Miami University of Ohio pursuing dual bachelor’s degrees in strategic communications and psychology. On campus, Paige is an active member of the Hillel Foundation at Miami University.