Monday, August 1, 2016

Camp, Jewish Identity and Authenticity

I just started my rotation at URJ Camp Harlam as faculty yesterday, and I'm already knee deep in programming, working with the kids and staff, and connecting with fellow Jewish professionals from around the region.

While I'm assigned to K'far Noar (entering 9th grade) today I had a chance to teach the Chavurah (entering 10th grade) kids. This was a follow up elective based on a previous program on authenticity and expressing one's Jewish identity; a great subject for that age group and a perfect location--Jewish camp--where we can really explore the topic fully and completely.

For me, the choice on what to teach was obvious; I showed my group two videos that have been around for a while but are worth seeing again. First was Adam Lustig's "What It Means To Be A Jew" (and many thanks to Rabbi Elisa Koppel for showing me this video last year).

The second was Vanessa Hidary's "Jewish Mamita" (which if you've ever seen the movie "The Tribe" is featured toward the end).

 Perfect films to reflect on the nature of Authentic expressions of Jewish Identity and what that means. 

After watching the videos and getting some general reaction the conversation turned toward our own experiences: when do we put our Judaism forward, when do we hold it back. When do we push, when do we restrain ourselves. I then asked the kids to write 6-word memoirs  (well, really 10-word memoirs) beginning with the words "I'm that Jew who..." The kids got really into it, and used it as an opportunity to describe their expression of Judaism. I was in awe of the words they chose to describe their Jewish identities: words like pride, educator, advocate. They talked about teaching non-Jewish relatives and friends about the traditions, about youth group and 'Jew Camp' and how deep this identity goes. They wanted the links to the videos for when they get home (no tech allowed at camp). Many didn't just write one, but two or three or four.

Is it the deepest exploration of identity? No; we didn't study texts for example. But they had the space--in a Jewish environment, surrounded by their own Jewish community--to talk about their Jewishness as an unmitigated, unqualified source of pride. And I'm good with that.

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