By Emily Kolodney
To every Jewish teen – anywhere and everywhere,
It seems like we’re losing one thing after another, aren’t we? Don’t get me started on summer.
Summer is what we look forward to all year, what we reminisce about with friends, what we yearn for. With so many things in our lives getting cancelled or postponed, we always had Jewish summer camps and programs to keep us going, to hold on to, to look forward to. Now, those are being taken away from us, too.
Although it may feel like the decision to cancel summer programs was made in an instant, I’m sure it was incredibly difficult. We know our camp directors spent weeks running scenarios and thinking through all possible options to make camp happen for us and for our families. They waited on regulations from the ACA and the CDC to guide them in their decision, no matter what it was going to be. Choices were mulled over and debated for weeks and, while they were hard to make, I know they were made with our health and safety top of mind.
So, I’ll just say it: this summer is going to be different. It’s going to be different to not have those moments sitting by the fire pit, laying in the grass with your best friends or celebrating Shabbat together. For many of us, it’s going to be our first summer in years that’s not a “camp summer” and, to be honest, I can’t even picture what that looks like. For most of us, it’s going to be the first summer we’re not connecting with friends or family in person, whether they live across the street or halfway around the world. It’s going to be a summer of missed opportunities – missed friendships, missed bonding time, and missed travel and trips abroad.
At the same time, I also know that when this is over, and we begin to settle into our new normal, Jewish teens around the globe will be seeking to make up for these opportunities throughout the school year. We’ll be going out to eat more than usual, spending more time at friends’ houses, going outdoors frequently, and wanting to make up for all the things we missed out on during this time of quarantine. And our Jewish youth movements are going to be a significant part of that – in BBYO, we’ll want to come together for chapter programs every week, spend extra time baking for chapter fundraisers, and schedule more hangouts than ever. Maybe we’ll even shift our Stand UP Philanthropy causes to COVID-19 relief, because although some of us might be able to meet in person, many others might not – and we need to be there to help them.
As we approach the summer months, although it’s disappointing not to have camp to look forward to, what gives me hope is how quickly the Jewish people adapt. How together, and in novel and innovative ways, we’re going to come together to support each other, develop new ways to connect and engage, and look optimistically towards the future.
The return to in-person events, on varying timelines in different communities across the world, will be slow. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. Together, we can (and should) look forward to our chapter meetings, our post-program late-night-food runs, and our Sunday service projects. We’ll welcome new members who’ve joined during this time by chalking their driveways with uplifting messages and silly drawings. We’ll celebrate our high school seniors by sending food delivery to their houses on the day they graduate. We’ll continue to come together on Zoom for events and gatherings, both small and big.
While admittedly, this is a challenging time in our lives, sometimes the real challenge is how we build and maintain momentum to keep moving forward. It’s one of the lessons of Jews who found their way through generations of exile and hardship. This is our opportunity to look at this situation as the beginning of our next chapter. We’re not starting over; we’re putting a different framework together. This is where our spirit, resilience, and determination shine brighter than ever.
Although the cancellation of our summer camp programs hurts right now, I am optimistic about where we go from here. If there’s one thing I know from my time in BBYO and growing up in a vibrant Jewish community, it’s that we know how to face challenges, learn from them, and move forward in a positive way. I have no doubt this will only make me, my peers, and our collective Jewish community stronger than ever.
Our future’s so bright.
Emily Kolodney is the 75th Anita M. Perlman International N’siah (teen president) of BBYO. She will be a freshman at Tulane University in the fall.