Growing up Jewish in a Non-Jewish Community: Summertime

By: Seth Finkle

With summer coming to a close in a few weeks, it got me thinking about my summers back home. For years I went to the day camp that was run by the local Jewish Community Center. At camp, I learned how to swim, and I have memories of sleepovers, playing kickball and making forts in the woods. I attended this camp for years, and many of my friends in the area did as well. It was, however, not a Jewish camp. It may have been run by the JCC, but the overall theme of camp was not Jewish. This was not a big deal to me, and maybe the camp was more Jewish than I noticed because years later, I learned that someone who attended camp with me secretly wanted to be Jewish based on his experience at the JCC camp.

 When I was a little older, my parents sent me to a Jewish overnight camp. It was the first time I was surrounded by other Jewish children. I had never realized how being around so many people who shared one thing in common, being Jewish, could be so enlightening and fun. I only went for two summers, but I have vivid memories of loving the color wars, participating in the drama program and even going to services. I loved the Israeli dancing on Friday nights. There are songs I hear now that bring me back to camp, and the memories of singing and dancing come back immediately.

Recently, I wrote about the importance of having Jewish friends and how lucky I feel to be in Rhode Island. I think some of this desire to be involved and connected to the Jewish community comes from those days at Jewish overnight camp and the joy of being surrounded by other Jews. When I was home for a few days, my mother asked me why I found it so important to have Jewish friends. I thought about it, and I think it is because of the common bond of being Jewish and that innate feeling that someone knows where you are coming from, especially in a country where we are a minority. It’s the idea of knowing instantly that you have something in common. The foundation of all friendships and relationships is finding something you have in common. And I think I owe a huge thanks to that Jewish camp from my childhood because without that experience, I would not feel as strongly about having Jewish friends or finding a connection to a Jewish community. I did not realize this at the time, but as I look back, I realize my parents did this for a reason. It is like most things – as kids we do not realize why our parents do the things they do. It is only when we are older that we realize how important these things truly are. So thank you, mom and dad, for sending me to camp. That is a weird thing to say…thank you for sending me to make friends, to play outside and to be a kid. In the long run, it was one of the best things you could have done even if I didn’t know it at the time.

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