The Power of J Day Camp

August 04, 2016

The Power of J Day Camp

Creating Mensches with Shabbabah 

There is a story of a beloved teacher, Rabbi Zusya, who had become old and taken ill.  His students came to visit him and Rabbi Zusya began to weep.  The students ask the great teacher, “Reb Zusya, why do you weep? Surely, if anyone is slotted for a good life in the world to come, it must be you!” 

Reb Zusya responded, “My dear ones, if when I pass into the next world I am asked ‘Why were you not an Abraham?’ I will have no hesitation to answer, ‘Because, I was not born an Abraham.’ So too, if I am to be asked, ‘And, why were you not a Moses?’ I will still confidently respond ‘Nor was I born a Moses.’ My children, I weep because there is only one question I fear to be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”  

This story is foundation upon which we seek to grow our community at J Camps…what does it mean to be your best self and what can we do to make mensches? 

What is a mensch, you ask?  Well, our campers will tell you it’s a good person; someone who is kind and does nice things for people whether they are your best friend or just someone passing by. 

We know our campers come to J Camps for many things: to refine their sports skills, to swim in our pools, to have positive growth experiences in a fun and caring environment, and to make friends! And, at the J, we know that camp is an opportunity for our campers to learn and experience in ways that happen differently from their school environment. These experiences can become some of the most important foundations for personal and communal growth if we can find that sweet spot.

At J Day, that sweet spot is Shabbabah, and while our values and efforts to grow mensches permeate throughout the camp community, we focus extra special attention on the last half of every Friday and that means… Shabbabah! 

Shabbabah is a hybrid of the word sabbabah, a popular term in Israel that means something akin to “a-ok” or “generally awesome,” and the word Shabbat…which is the day every week where Jewish tradition invites us to put away our daily schedules and calendars and let rest, family, and community be at the forefront to recharge our bodies and souls.  

Camp unfolds in two week cycles and so this year we have four key values that our campers have played with during Shabbabah and beyond each week: ruach/spirit, chesed/kindness, chakira/exploration or curiosity, and kavod/respect. 

Over each two week period campers have a chance to think about how these values relate to their own lives with Rabbi Jessy and then to think the following week about how these values play out through service to others in a partnership with Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC).  

Thus, a tie-dye activity becomes an example of the color that is added to an otherwise plain bandana — the same way each person brings his/her individual spirit into camp and adds color and vibrancy to our camp community… 

Making kaleidoscopes leads to a conversation about seeing things through different perspectives and the invitation to lead with curiosity…

JVC introduced campers to ways they could do service for their communities. 

In week one, the theme was ruach/spirit. In week two, campers created items to be included in a gift bag for children at the Johns Hopkins Childrens Hospital — to raise their spirits. Projects included cards, friendship bracelets, dream catcher craft kits, and mini coloring books.

In week three, the theme was chesed/kindness. Then in week four, campers created crafts to give to seniors — to extend kindness. Projects included decorations for local hospice facilities, decorative flowers and cups for Meals on Wheels recipients, cards for members of CHAI’s Northwest Neighbors Connecting community, and placemats and home blessings for residents of Weinberg Village.

The best part about camp is that it is a full body experience. Through Shabbabah and more we try to ensure that our campers feel the camp experience in their physical bodies, their heads, and their souls. We aim to give them experiences through hands-on projects that spark their own sense of self and encourage them to be a mensch at camp, at home, and out in the world.  Camp gives us the space to show just how much fun being a mensch and learning to be your best self can be – through art, music, sports, dance and Shabbabah.

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