Top 10+ Reasons to Send Your Rabbi to Jewish Summer Camp

Some of Congregation Or Ami's delegation to Camp Newman
Some of Congregation Or Ami’s delegation to Camp Newman

By Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Want to enhance your synagogue?

Then send your rabbis, cantors, educators and youth professions annually to work at a Jewish summer camp. Not as vacation time, but as a two-week professional development and personal renewal work experience. Your clergy and staff will come back refreshed and renewed. Your congregation will benefit from new creative ideas, inspiring music and energized staff.

A Place for Personal Renewal and Professional Growth

Every summer my wife Michelle November and I lead a delegation of 40+ people from Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) to the URJ Camp Newman (Santa Rosa, CA). For two weeks I serve as Rabbinic Faculty Dean, assisting the young rashim (unit heads) with their programs, leading creative services, sitting in staff meetings, and engage campers and counselors in deep discussions about Judaism, God and spirituality. The days are long, the work is continuous, and by midnight, we fall into our beds exhausted.

Even after our own children have matriculated out of camp, we still go back summer after summer. Without exception, each summer I return home reinvigorated, ready to inspire our congregants in the Jewish New Year. Our synagogue leadership notices the renewal of my spirit; my clergy partners talk about how I return fuller with new insights and an enhanced vision.

Enhance Your Synagogue; Send Your People to Camp

You should also send your rabbis, educators, cantors and youth professionals to Jewish summer camp for their benefit and for the benefit of your congregation. Why?

Ask the rabbis, educators, cantors, and youth directors who go to camp. They understand why it is so critical that they attend Jewish summer camp. I asked them. Their answers are below. (Note: Each mention of “rabbi” also refers to cantors, educators and youth professionals. Each mention of “synagogue” or “congregation” also refers to organizations and wherever these Jewish professionals serve the Jewish people.)

Top 10+ Reasons to Send Your Rabbi to Jewish Summer Camp

Being on faculty at Jewish summer camp, your rabbi gains:

  1. Collegiality: We spend time with colleagues who inspire us as we engage in idea sharing and problem solving. We connect with and build strong relationships with new colleagues, and partner with and learn from them. We gather some of our best inspiration from other rabbis during our time at camp.
  2. Jewish Incubator: Every summer we gain new perspectives and sharper tools to address the challenges Jewish communities face. At camp, we experiment in a proven incubator where the next and best Jewish trends develop and take shape. By being there, we more quickly move these ideas from R&D (research and development) into our congregations. Camp serves as an especially rich testing ground for ideas about youth engagement and presents 24/7 opportunities to practice talking with young people about things that matter.
  3. Best of Judaism: We are exposed to the best of Judaism on multiple levels: community, prayer, creativity, music, Zionism, art, and more. We discover and learn new Jewish music that inspires hearts and souls, which we can bring home for Shabbat services and into our religious schools. We also compile a treasure trove of stories to educate our congregational youth and families during the year. Camp is the most exciting place outside the synagogue to experience living, loving Judaism.
  4. Deepened Spirituality: Our own. We experience Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s radical amazement, leading us to reconnect with our inner neshamah (soul). We find the Holy One in the outdoor Beit T’filah (prayer space) and experience evocative Shabbat ruach (spirit). These experiences prepare rabbis to better serve the Holy One through our holy work in our congregations.
  5. Creative T’fillah: We experience and experiment with creative t’fillah (worship services), which we use to enhance services back home. At camp, the Jewish spiritual future is happening in the present. Rabbis need to keep up with it!
  6. Jewish Role Modeling: Meeting Jewish youth from around the region, we demonstrate to them that rabbis can be fun-loving role models, trustworthy confidantes, and real people (who wear shorts). Kids learn that being a rabbi, cantor, or educator is what you teach, not what you wear.
  7. Relationships Building: We build deeper connections with our temple kids in a different, deeply spiritual context. By extension – before, during and after camp – we build relationships with their parents. Nothing beats a relationship built at camp! Camp is where our kids are most excited about absorbing the message of Judaism and they take pride in seeing THEIR rabbi in an environment they think is cool. After spending time with the youth at Jewish summer camp, the parents said that being with their rabbi was one of their child’s (and their own) summer highlights.
  8. More Kids to Camp: Our presence at camp inspires more temple kids – especially younger ones who live a distance away – to come to camp. Many parents are more apt to send their children when they know that the rabbi will be there to watch over their kids. (My first day pictures of temple kids that I text to parents and post to Facebook help ease the transition.) In fact, in the first six years after I started coming to camp, we increased our synagogue camper and counselor delegation from 4 to 40.
  9. Ensuring the Jewish Future: Rabbis at camp inspire kids to live Jewish lives by providing loving examples. As these young people grow up, they especially become the leaders of our Jewish community; our presence at camp perpetuates the cycle of Jewish leadership. In fact, so many of us became Jewish professionals because of the experiences and informal interactions we had with engaging rabbis when we went to camp.
  10. Professional Growth: At camp, we rabbis step out of our comfort zones in various ways so that we, like the campers, grow as a result. When we are assigned to a different eidah (unit) and need to develop comfort connecting with a new age grouping, when we are asked to help create a service involving only the arts, and when we stumble upon a counselor crying from frustration, we stretch ourselves in new directions. We learn more than we teach, especially when we listen carefully.
  11. Rejuvenation: We all need safe places to shake off the pressures of work, and regain energy. At camp, rabbis renew our own creativity. We restore our optimism about the Jewish people. We regain broader perspective, enabling us to see the forest. We revitalize from rabbinic burnout.
  12. Of course, camp is fun. And Jewish professionals need time for fun. But for rabbis, going to camp is so much more. Camp transforms kids, rejuvenates rabbis, and enhances our synagogues.

So send your rabbi, cantor, educator and youth professional to Jewish summer camp and watch your synagogue be transformed!

Thanks to the following rabbis and educators for their insights:

Joel Abraham, Craig Axler, Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik, Steven Bob, Anne Brener, Judy Chessin, Ben David, Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, Andrew Davids Ergas, Donald Goor, Lisa Greene, Eric Gurvis, Jason Gwasdoff, Laura Schwartz Harari, Elisa Koppel, Riqi Kosovske, Lisa Levenberg, Craig Lewis, Dan Moskovitz, Fred Natkin, Anne Persin, Daniel Plotkin, Stacy Eskovitz Rigler, Rachel Crossley Saphire, Roxanne Schneider Shapiro, Bradley Solmsen, Cy Stanway, Betsy Torop, Daniel Treiser, Allison Bergman Vann, Laura Novak Winer, Rick Winer, Binah Brownstein Wing, Mara Young, and Ahuva Zaches.

Do you send your rabbi/cantor/educator/youth professional to Jewish summer camp? What does he/she bring back to your community?

Rabbi Paul Kipnes is rabbi of Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, California and blogs at Or Am I?