By Dustin Stern
The day after I returned from Camp OSRUI (Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute), I had this strong feeling in my chest that I had never felt before. It felt incredible, it felt empowering. It was as if there was an energy within me that was trying to be released. I had just engaged in four immersive days and nights of Trybal Gatherings’ Jewish overnight camp for young adults.
I didn’t know what was happening, but all I kept thinking was there were things I experienced during that weekend that I needed to take with me going forward. So I began to reflect.
My Trybal experience had actually started a few weeks before I left for Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I had signed up for the overnight camp getaway on an impulse. I never do things like that. I’m still not exactly sure why I did.
I had never been to overnight camp before. I’m not religious. I’m more of an introvert. It was all way outside my comfort zone. I had second thoughts and tried to get my money back, but Carine, the camp organizer, convinced me to give it a shot.
When I got to camp Thursday night, the anxiety did not subside. I didn’t know anyone. Everything was foreign to me. I kept questioning why I was there. But that would all begin to change by the time I woke up on Friday.
I went into the day with the intention to try things that were new or outside my comfort zone. I was already uncomfortable so I figured I might as well embrace it. It started with a high ropes course which was perfect since I’m afraid of heights. I was extremely nervous, but after climbing to the top for the first time, I began to feel my fear loosening its grip.
I then tried yoga on a stand-up paddleboard, another brand new experience for me. And even though I fell in the lake after pretty much every pose, I loved every minute of it. The day continued with a beautiful outdoor shabbat service at sunset and then, storytelling by the campfire.
I actively avoid public speaking. It has always been a deep fear of mine. I don’t like being the center of attention. But I decided if I’m going to face my fear, this was the place to do it.
With dozens of strangers watching me, I stood up and told a story about the life changing hardships I experienced two summers ago and how it positively shaped the man I am today. After I told my story, the group began opening up to me and we started connecting with each other on a deeper level. We were no longer strangers.
I made meaningful friendships over the next two days. We shared our struggles, our fears, our passions, our dreams. We sang Karaoke, laughed our asses off, and gazed at the stars together. These people have inspired me to pick up a guitar, to travel the world, to explore my religion, to do what truly makes me happy.
The staff was equally incredible. “Yoga Shareen” and I had deep discussions about life, love, and making the most of the one ride we get on this wild and wonderful planet. Rabbi Josh Weinberg, President of ARZA, and Rabbi Jeff Stombough of Mishkan spoke about Judaism in a gentle and beautiful way, and I was surprised by how much it resonated with my own values.
There was this sense of community I hadn’t felt since college. I didn’t realize how much I needed it.
And after reminiscing on my entire experience, I finally understood what my body was trying to tell me.
It was all a preview.
The personal growth, facing fears and taking chances, stepping into the unknown and thriving, a sense of community, new friendships, quality time in nature, inspiring others, deep human connection, yoga and meditation, music, laughter, openness, spirituality, meaningful discussion, playing like I did as a kid.
These simple but beautiful treasures of life, I got to experience and feel it all in the span of a few days. The full spectrum of emotions. It made me feel alive. And when I think about my best life, that is exactly what I want it to feel like.
I’m so damn proud. I feel more confident than I ever have before. Like I can do anything. I have everything I need right now to live the incredible life I want.
I don’t know exactly where my journey will take me, but I do know I will be taking my Trybal experience with me wherever I go.
Dustin Stern, age 28, is from Chicago and went to Trybal in Lac La Belle, WI. He is an investment analyst at MB Investments and runs a personal finance and lifestyle blog called The Personal Finance Playbook (thepersonalfinanceplaybook.com)
Upcoming Trybal Gatherings are in the Berkshires Sept. 6-9 and in Malibu, CA Sept. 21-24. Round-trip transportation is being offered from New York to the Berkshires via a camp bus. Visit https://www.trybalgatherings.com/ to register.