Igniting the Imagination: A Vision for a Jewish Family Camp
By Rabbi Miriam Burg
There is a unicorn and a wizard who live in the woods. If we sing loudly enough during the week, we might catch a glimpse of them galloping by on Friday morning. And Puff the Magic Dragon, he lives somewhere on the lake. We feed him soggy jelly sandwiches whenever we go sailing. He must really like them because they always disappear.
Every summer, my family – along with hundreds of others over the course of eleven one-week sessions – goes searching for these mythological creatures at Camp Michigania, a family camp owned and operated by the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan.
Camp Michigania is a magical place – and not just because of the Unicorn, the Wizard and Puff – but because it is a place where whole families go to overnight camp together. I was eight-years-old when I first spent a week on the beautiful shores of Lake Walloon in Northern Michigan with my parents and my younger sister. This upcoming year will be the 36th consecutive summer that we have gone to camp together – except now it is my parents, my sister and her family, me and my family. We will range in age from 7 to 71. And we will share the week with many of the same people – and their grown and growing and changing families – who have been going “4th week” for decades too. We have all grown up together.
Like all overnight camps, it is a place where disconnecting from devices and to-do lists makes it possible for valuable relationships to be built, nurtured, sustained and renewed. It is a place of belonging, of community, of substance and of play. But unlike the other camps, Camp Michigania is not only a camp for kids. It is a camp for families. It is a place where children and parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins and friends go to be together. It is a place where mothers and daughters go sailing together, where fathers and sons ride horses, where grandparents and grandchildren roast marshmallows, where friends of all ages make lanyards and build sandcastles.
For years now, leaders in the Jewish community have espoused the effectiveness of Jewish overnight camping and of family education. We know, through research and experience, that each of these modalities of learning has transformative power. Now the time has come to bring them together in a new way. The time has come to fully embrace Jewish family camping – an experience of Jewish living and learning that will challenge how people of all ages think about being Jewish, build a new model of Jewish community, strengthen Jewish families (of all sorts), and contribute to a dynamic Jewish present and future.
Imagine a Jewish camp, like Camp Michigania, that is designed for families, from the architecture of the cabins and activity areas to the daily schedule. Imagine a place where the staff is deliberately trained to work with campers of all ages, from infants to grandparents. Imagine a week so valuable in the life of your family that the Jewish experiences you have at camp inspire you to bring more meaning and substance and joy to your Jewish life at home. Imagine a week that your family looks forward to sharing together every year, and over the course of many years.
For my family, Camp Michigania is such a place. We anticipate it all year. We have long-lasting friendships with our fellow campers. We love the place and the people, and we love being with each other there. We sing the silly songs from camp at our Thanksgiving Table. The kids collect anything unicorn. We can’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without thinking about Puff. And one day, perhaps not too far in the future, there will be a Jewish place like it. Maybe one day, we won’t be able to eat a bite of challah without thinking about the unicorn whose tail is always braided and the Shabbat queen who rides her – maybe we will even catch a glimpse of them riding through camp.
Rabbi Miriam Cotzin Burg has served the Jewish community as an educator for over 15 years. She is currently pursuing her childhood dream of creating a Jewish overnight camp for families.