As you know, I did not send out my usual Shabbat encouragement on Thursday evening. It was a rather overwhelming week of preparation for and travel to Camp Or L’Dor in the Poconos this year, work deadlines, Airbnb preparation for renting of our house while away, and most importantly, attention to a family member’s grave medical condition. I was not in the head or emotional space for my usual times with HaShem and as a result, my spiritual strength was sapped.
So this morning at camp, as we held Shabbat services outdoors, as I prayed deeply the Amidah while looking at His magnificent created beauty, so many thoughts flooded my private prayers with Him about camp. Despite the many challenges of the week, this morning’s Shabbat service did not just lift me up as usual, but also, spoke to me even more deeply.
To those newer to these encouragements, Camp Or L’Dor first started in 2009, that first year a bit of a beta test for the concept. For years Sid had felt a camp for Messianic Jewish teens which had a bit of an Outward Bound aspect, a challenging outdoor adventure, would be a powerful way for our young people to feel closer to HaShem. Nature’s ability to help us feel His presence is indisputable. When Rabbi Nathan came to Ruach, it was a match made in heaven, as the two men combined their talents and Camp Or L’Dor was founded. It has successfully run every year since then, including a virtual camp last year.
In addition to the emphasis on teaching the underpinnings and practices of our faith to our youth while immersed in outdoor experiences, the other goal I felt strongly about was that this camp be held at a mainstream Jewish camp so that our youth would also experience being part of their Jewish community. The stories over the years have been ones of early challenge, amazing dialogues, great conversations leading to understanding of Messianic Judaism by our various Jewish host camps. Based on our experiences to date, I can say that the early years’ challenges have greatly lessened over time on the subject of Jewish camps’ being open to hosting our Messianic Jewish camp. Baruch HaShem! Our being Messianic Jewish has not been a hurdle in recent years, but rather, Jewish camps generally have become more utilized by the various Jewish Community Centers leaving less room for them to rent to outside groups, generally.
With this as backdrop, post Covid we decided this year would be a regrouping year so we are holding our camp at the Pocono Environmental Education Center. It’s been fabulous so far but it is not a Jewish camp. As I prayed and communed with the surrounding beauty this morning some interesting thoughts came to mind on this very point.
As we prayed, I was overwhelmed with the connection I was having at that moment with HaShem. I could appreciate without distraction the quietness of our surroundings, the beauty of the trees swaying in the wind, the stress-free environment of seeing small children in the distant field, naturally part of our experience, the feeling that it’s just us and God, together, with no other outside sounds other than the chirping birds to interrupt this precious time. The blessing of our Joiner family as the foundation for the upcoming days of young leaders and youth preparing for the days ahead in Him seemed part of a bigger plan.
Although I think the value of our camp being part of the greater Jewish camp world, and the interchanges have been amazing over the years, perhaps we are entering a new time. I have to admit being at a place with so few distractions by so many other people has created an intimacy with our Abba in a way that I know is important. Although our group has always been boisterous and unashamed in our praise and worship as a guest at the other camps, this facility has so few other people here that it feels like it’s just us and God in this most beautiful holy sanctuary that He has provided for us. We also may have the ability to grow our camp at a place like this without reaching capacity limits we typically reach at the Jewish camps which typically have several hundred other campers there at the same time as when we are there.
The normalization of Messianic Judaism within the Jewish community has definitely been moving forward, and our years of interaction at Jewish camps has not only seen this, but perhaps has been a part of its change. Perhaps that need is less important for now. Perhaps moving forward we are at a time when we are to grow our camp, when we are to ground more deeply even more young Messianic Jewish teens and counselors in their understanding of our faith and commitment to its practices. Perhaps that priority is what is needed now for what lies ahead.
To watch our young people transform, shed their shyness or inhibitions and dance and sing aloud with other young Messianic Jewish people in praise of the Holy One, always makes me cry with happiness and gratitude. And this is just day two of our ten day camp . . .
I never thought I would feel this way on the topic of the need to hold our camp at a Jewish camp. Yet as I closed my eyes and listened with the vision of the swaying trees in my mind, I felt these promptings for the next stage of Camp Or L’Dor, despite my previous convictions. For today, that’s what I hear.
The message is to keep listening, a message for us all.