By Lexi Erdheim
I will never forget my first day at Jacobs Camp. In a beautiful opening ceremony set against the backdrop of Lake Gary at sunset, staff members and campers passed a Torah from the eldest staff member to the youngest camper, embodying our summer theme, L’dor vador: from generation to generation. The ceremony concluded with everyone’s arms around one another, swaying and singing Josh Nelson’s “L’dor Vador.” I remember looking out into the kehillah and seeing tears streaming down so many faces – campers, counselors, even Anna herself. And in that moment, I knew that I was somewhere truly magical. I could not wait for the summer ahead of me.
One of the most impactful parts of my summer at Jacobs was experiencing Southern Jewry and coming to realize just how formative Jacobs Camp is for the vitality of Southern Jewish life. I grew up in Livingston, NJ; a place where it seems like everyone is Jewish. Really, it’s about 30% of the population, but being Jewish in Livingston is easy. The public schools are closed for the High Holidays every year. In 7th grade, bar and bat mitzvahs dominated my social life. The few non-Jewish members of my class would constantly complain about how badly they wished that they could have a bar or bat mitzvah. In fact, my town, Livingston, is colloquially known as “Livingstein.” Being Jewish was something that I took for granted. I assumed that everyone was Jewish, or was at least familiar with Judaism. I never had to explain myself or my religion; being Jewish was the norm, not the exception.
This past summer at Jacobs was the first time in my life that I was immersed in a community which did not take being Jewish for granted. One of the most inspiring parts of my summer was hearing campers share their experiences of being the only or one of the only Jewish people in their school, in their town, or even in their county. So many campers and staff members shared with me how meaningful it was for them to return to Jacobs every summer where they could be a part of a larger Jewish community for the first time, where they could meet other kids who were Jewish, just like them. In many ways, Jacobs is one of these campers’ primary Jewish experiences and I was deeply humbled and honored to be a part of that.
I found myself constantly inspired by these campers and staff members who, unlike myself, did not live in a place where being Jewish was easy. For many of these campers and staff members, Jacobs Camp is the only place where they could feel completely comfortable with their Jewish identity. Being a part of and helping to create that community was extremely meaningful to me; to help create a space where campers and counselors were able to explore their Jewish identity in a different way – whether it was through formal education in Kehillah or specialty camp, during creative t’fillot (prayer), reciting the Birkat Hamazon (the blessing after meals), or even just being surrounded by other Jews just like them.
Jacobs Camp is ensuring that, like that Torah scroll during our opening ceremony, our tradition will be passed to the next generation. Jacobs ensures that Jewish children and young adults who might not otherwise get to hold the Torah are offered that opportunity. For me, that is what Jacobs Camp is all about and it is why I am beyond thrilled to be returning to Jacobs this summer. I cannot wait to see what magic is in store for me in Summer 2016.