One of the tenets of Reconstructionism suggests that being a member of the Jewish community is about belonging and behaving before it is about believing. In other words, typically one does not (and perhaps cannot) have a strong and connected belief in Jewish theology without first belonging to the community in some way and behaving as such. This movement from belonging to believing also holds true in the forming of the camp community.
First comes Belonging. In order to have a successful camp program, there must be committed and involved members of the community. Campers need to feel that they are part of something greater than themselves, and the first programs of the camp season begin by bringing them into an environment where they can make a place for themselves. We aim to engage our campers on different intellectual and social levels, and although it is not possible to have something for everyone, the purpose of the first days of camp is to engage them in this new community and to bring them to a point where they feel a sense of commitment to the kehillah(community).
Behaving like a member of the community comes only after campers are invested in being part of that community. Campers can focus on behaving by taking responsibility for the way the camp community lives and interacts, and as part of a Jewish camp they can see how these behaviors take on larger meanings as they leave camp and bring them into their everyday lives. Camp programs focus on what it means to act as a Jew in a typically secular world and why it is important to be part of a Jewish community in the 21st Century.
Programming can begin to focus on Believing only after there is a core group of campers who are committed to and invested in the camp community and who have a sense of what it means to behave as part of that community. At this point programs can focus on issues of spirituality, belief, practice, and other topics that might be considered “religious.” By waiting until this point in the process, campers are given plenty of time to build a community in which they feel safe to share these personal ideas with their peers. With this said, believing does not necessarily mean that all members of the community must have the same commitment to Jewish spirituality and theology. Believing means taking a vested interest in the future success of the camp program, allowing new campers to be engaged in their own similar processes of belonging, behaving, and believing. More than this, believing ensures the future involvement of our campers in personally meaningful Jewish experiences.
The Values of Spiritual Peoplehood
Camp JRF has adopted core values of Judaism as a method of study. In creating programs and lessons of study we examine these values:
Hokhmah (wisdom) takes us to texts both ancient and modern as we delve into the style and methodology of learning that is steeped in our Jewish tradition. It has always been our duty to examine texts and hear the words and thoughts spoken to us in each civilization and in each culture. As Reconstructionists we have engaged in this study in formal ways, but there is an added excitement as we make the text come alive with innovative and creative activities.
Hiddur Mitzvah (creativity) reminds us of a time in our observant past when the fine arts could be used only in beautifying a mitzvah. The creation of ritual art for centuries was the major product. Ritual objects from menorahs to kiddush cups, wimples to tallitot, mizrahs to ketubot, Torah mantels to Shabbat tablecloths were all beautiful ways to enter into the world of the fine arts. It is now our joyous task to open these avenues and many more to informal learning, enhancing the connection to our heritage in the modern and ancient world.
Kedushah (spirituality) takes us to a different realm – a way in which we can encounter the Divine. For many campers, prayer has been offered as the first step in finding a spiritual connection, but it need not be the only path. Community expression, nature and environmental immersions, music and meditation, rhythm and dance – all of these vehicles can have a mystical approach for the individual and the group. It is an essential (yet not always easy) journey to find that spiritual chord.
Tziyonut (peoplehood), which might better be known by the non-political term of Yisrael, signifies the connection of the Jewish people to the land and the people of Israel. As Reconstructionists we feel the connection to cultural Zionism through the use of modern religious and popular Israeli songs, but we also attempt to be sensitive to a way in which the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael can be brothers and sisters in a world of peace.
Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) makes us ask the question, “How can we as Jews and as human beings bring about a better world?” There can be no doubt that our campers should incorporate into their lives a sense of tzedek – social, political, and economic justice – and a vision of working towards mending the local and global parts of their lives.
Derekh Eretz (character) focuses on the manner in which we should behave towards one another. Using the language of the Holiness Code, we strive to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The Camp JRF community is based on a code for the treatment of ourselves and each other based on the values of our heritage. Within this we remember that it should be our task to be good people.
Kehillah (community) is at the core of our program and our philosophy. In everything we do, we aim to create a community that is deeply caring, thoughtful, inclusive, and engaging.