Dear Fellow Shluchim,
Over the past several days, thousands of our fellow Shluchim gathered together for the annual Kinus Hashluchim, a time when we unite to share experiences, insights, and inspiration. Yesterday, while participating in the Youth Summit organized by the Kinus, engaging with fellow Shluchim who are dedicated to serving children globally, I randomly received an email from a parent of our camp. The email simply contained three paragraphs written by her youngest daughter, who was a camper for several years. This email gives you a small taste of the profound impact and transformative power that overnight can have on the children in our communities.
“If you know me you know how camp changed my life, and I mean that literally. Somehow underneath the laughter echoing through tall pine trees and the warm glow of campfires interlaced with a story, I found myself. Somehow hearing the whole camp bentch together with true passion and meaning, made me want a profound connection with something greater. Somehow after many late at night, deep, meaningful conversations with my bunkmates, and Friday challah bakes, I was able to recognize that I needed to grow my relationship with Hashem. This was during my fourth summer at that same camp and something different just clicked, a certain desire to become more religious.
As the summer was ending one of my peers asked me, “why is camp so special to you?” this is something i had thought about a lot, but was so difficult to put into words. I brought myself back to the first moment I arrived at camp. I walked in, scared, excited, and confused as to why everyone was dancing. I didn’t even get a chance to ask, before I was pulled into a circle of campers learning a new dance to the song “Golden Sunshine” by Matisyahu. I hadn’t really listened to much Jewish music except for your average cheesy Hanukkah songs. But this was different, it felt more sincere. Soon we were on the grass, braiding hair and making friendship bracelets while talking about Torah and davening. Since I was 8, I wasn’t able to appreciate how much moments like this would help me become the person I am today. But, now I know it did. Next, I brought myself then to a moment during my 3rd year, color war, and how we had the time of our lives and it brought everyone so so so much closer to each other. Whether I was working on a Dvar Torah or painting my 5th banner, camp was my home away from home.
In those moments of self-discovery at camp, I found the courage to try things out– not to just let it be an idea. This led me to want to try out something big. After camp that Fall, I was just getting ready to enter 6th grade with the friends I’ve experienced life, learned the ABCs, learned how to tie my shoes, all in the public school system. Even though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted or how I wanted it to play out, I talked to my parents. I told them how I felt and that I wanted to attend a Jewish day school. Not only did I talk to them, I made a very very persuasive power-point slideshow as to why they should send me. They said yes! Because of camp, I am where I am today, and I am thankful.”
The impact of overnight camp, as echoed in this personal reflection, goes far beyond the laughter, the dances, or the shared moments around a campfire. It’s a time when children from all backgrounds and communities come together, united by their Neshama alone, coming to be around similar children like them, instilling Jewish pride, and being inspired by Yidddishkeit.
This family’s journey underscores the transformative potential we, as Shluchim, possess. The Rebbe’s unequivocal statements about the transformative power of a 24/7 environment in an overnight camp distinguish it as unparalleled compared to other Peulos we do.
This is increasingly true in light of the tragic massacre in Eretz Yisroel a month ago, coupled with the alarming reverberations of antisemitism around the world. Many of the youth in our communities feel increasingly isolated, and the need for a sense of belonging and Jewish pride is of utmost importance now more than ever!
I encourage each of you to consider the impact we can make by bringing the transformative power of camp to the children in our communities.
I wish you all continued success in your noble Shlichus, and may we have Hatzlacha in our ultimate goal of ushering in the era of Moshiach!
Wishing you a rejuvenating Shabbos!
Executive Director, CGI Poconos