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Home » The Magic of Jacobs Camp: From the perspective of a first time staff member

I arrived at camp during the morning on May 31, 2018. That first day was a blur, but I remember the end of it vividly.

I was working in the office until around 10:30pm. As I walked outside, I heard the familiar and comforting “amein” of the shehecheyanu. I turned to my right and saw Mason Greenberg and Charlie Cox in colorful adirondack chairs on the porch, strumming guitars, and practicing the shehecheyanu – the Jewish prayer that celebrates something happening for the first time.

When I graduated from Tufts University with a Judaic Studies degree in 2016, my plan was to go to rabbinical school after working in the Jewish world for a couple years. I moved to Jackson, Mississippi and fell in love with the Southern culture. I found however, that when leading services became my job, I no longer looked forward to Friday night all week. Having a nigun stuck in my head didn’t bring me joy anymore, and I began to resent being Jewish. I am glad I took the time to explore a career in the Jewish professional sector for the past two years, and at this point in my life, I do not believe it is the right place for me. 

So you’re probably wondering what I’m doing at a Jewish camp this summer. I may have lost sight of my passion for Judaism, and I knew if there was one place where I could regain it, it would be at a URJ camp. Since I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, I also grew up at URJ OSRUI, where I formed much of my strong Jewish identity. I was never a counselor, however, and I was nervous to return to the world of camping for the first time since 2009.

I didn’t know know what to expect, but when I found myself on the porch that night after my first day at camp, I knew I had come home.

Without realizing it, I had actually experienced all four ingredients of the Jacobs magic recipe on that first day:

  • Hachnasat orchim (welcome home hospitality)
  • Simcha (find your joy)
  • Hakarat hatov (develop a culture of gratitude)
  • Zerizut (make ordinary moments extraordinary or MOME)

I was enveloped by the Jacobs magic even before staff and campers had arrived, and that speaks volumes about the leadership of this camp community.

Joshua Posner and Sarah Tucker welcomed me and immediately put any nervousness I had to rest. I felt at home at Jacobs Camp within minutes of arriving.

That first day, I found my joy at meals – meeting new friends over the baked potato bar and learning about the dining hall norms. Pass and stack or stack and pass?

I decided to start a gratitude journal. Every night before I go to sleep, I write anywhere from one to three things, people, or concepts I am grateful for in that moment. I have managed to complete this daily since my first day at camp and I’ve found this simple act cultivates more gratitude inside me.

Mason and Charlie exemplified MOME by including me in their impromptu song session. I didn’t realize I needed to hear the shehecheyanu that night. Looking back, that was the first moment I started to regain my love of spirituality and Judaism. 

Almost a month later, over halfway through first session, and as Maccabiah comes to a close, I still experience these four ingredients daily. Some days I find it more difficult to find my joy, and I usually find that simply being around campers does the trick. I try to verbally express gratitude daily, and make others feel as at home as I do. Whether it is collecting eggs from Nadav’s feisty chickens, bringing Kidz Bop music to a kehilah session, or belting out High School Musical lyrics at lunch, MOME has also become a daily tradition.

It has been incredible to witness the Jacobs magic firsthand, and I am so grateful to play a part in making it come alive.

Leah Wittenberg
Director of Marketing and Hospitality