Camp has ended but it is only the beginning of the impact it has had on those whose lives it touched. This coming Shabbat some camp leaders will be sharing this year’s highlights with our Ruach community, so I don’t want to give too much away in this writing. I’ll try to stick with vignettes that will not be spoilers.
Every summer we are always in awe of our campers’ positive attitudes toward prayer and study and their respect for Scripture and Torah. This special nature of our campers has even been commented upon by camp leaders at the Jewish camps where we have been located in prior years. Our teens are surrounded by the same influences as all teens, including the influence of peers and social media. And yet, perhaps in part due to parents’ and our faith communities’ hard work to help them be grounded in their faith, these young peoples’ hearts desires to grow closer to HaShem is palpable.
It’s not an easy transition to be away from their cell phones. Yet once these are no longer an option, these young people are freed from distractions that often are obstacles to their faith walks. The ability for all of them to be in the same situation, a complete break from secular life, interacting and living with each other nurtured by their young counselor leaders, enables them to really immerse in the possibility of an encounter with God.
Every year my favorite part of camp occurs on the second Erev Shabbat (Friday night) when after dinner the campers are given an opportunity to share what was the most meaningful experience for them at camp, or whatever else they would like to share with the group. By this point in camp they have all reached such an amazing state of vulnerability and trust of the love surrounding them that their words are always unforgettable.
There are ao many fun activities at camp – color team competitions, Israeli Day, skits, talent show – not to mention cabin time, journaling, services, the overnight canoeing and kayaking trip – and much more. So this year when camper after camper said that their most memorable experience was the healing prayer services, we leaders were shocked and happily surprised. The testimonies were amazing, just amazing, story after story that changed us all as evidences of the presence of the Ruach were shared. There is no question that the Ruach was an unregistered attendee at camp this year, and particularly present at the healing prayer services.
After the campers left we had a debrief with the counselors. One of our counselors shared that recently a young adult who had been a camper at Surprise Lake Camp (SLC), the mainstream Jewish camp at which we held Camp Or L’Dor from 2010 to 2014, interchanged with him on Facebook about his memories of his interactions with our campers. The now young man remembered that as a camper at SLC he had had conversations with his parents about Messianic Judaism and was able to dispel their stereotypes about us, such knowledge based on his experience with our campers.
How did this “random” contact on Facebook with one of our counselors by a now adult SLC camper even happen? How HaShem has His hand in this, keeping us on track with our vision. . .
Personally, I was very encouraged by this story as well as by the comments from all of the counselors who had been campers in our earlier years of the importance that camp be held at a Jewish camp. Historically, our camp was able to be held at Jewish camps since they were not fully utilized by their own campers. As the years went on, however, and just prior to Covid, Jewish summer camps were full to capacity and no longer able to host us, and so, we’ve held camp for the last two years at the Poconos Environmental Education Center, a non-sectarian retreat center which has been wonderful, too. Although we may return there next year I am reinvigorated by the words of our counselors to again research the possibility of Camp Or L’Dor returning to a Jewish camp location, the counselor’s story an amazing example of conversation leading to understanding as well as of the enigmatic power of social media.
Indeed, the children are our future. Our Camp Or L’Dor experiences are surely a reason to be encouraged, not just about our children, but about the future of Messianic Judaism, itself. May our camp continue to be not only a light within our MJ communities but again be a light to our Jewish brothers and sisters.