My Jewish Camp Journey
By Rachel Anszelowicz
When I was eight years old, I received a One Happy Camper® (OHC) grant; and like thousands of campers in the years before and after me, was given the opportunity to attend Jewish overnight camp for the first time. I spent the next three weeks learning new boating, athletic, and archery skills, designing props for the camp plays, singing new tunes to my favorite Shabbat prayers, creating invaluable memories, and building friendships that still exist today. I didn’t know it yet, but this opportunity would go on to shape the rest of my life— guiding me to lifelong friends, helping me define my personal and Jewish identity, and driving me towards a full-time career in the field of Jewish camp.
After five magical summers at Camp Laurelwood in Madison, Connecticut, my mother accepted a job working at New Jersey Y Camps, and my siblings and I joined her in Milford Pennsylvania. Though, at 13-years-old I was sad to leave my old summer home and friends behind and nervous to be the “new girl” at a new camp, I quickly found myself immersed in yet another meaningful and exciting Jewish community. Not only was I lucky enough to have found a new Jewish home at camp, but I had found two! As I got older, I became a counselor and continued enjoying camp as it taught me important lessons about community, life, and myself while helping the next generation of campers connect with both each other and camp. In my third year working at camp, I was selected to be a part of the NJY cohort of Cornerstone fellows. Once there, I was met by hundreds of other camp people, and over the course of the week, I was pushed to confront the intersection of camp and Judaism and taught how Jewish education can take the form of exciting new games, icebreaker activities or art projects. They challenged me to bring these new ideas back to my camp and create meaningful, engaging education; skills that I still use every day in my summer role of assistant director.
After graduating college, I had visions of myself in grad school, but when FJC’s email to Cornerstone Alumni let us know they were looking to hire three fellows to work on several camping initiatives and return to camp over the summer, I realized that the one constant in my life, the thing that has always made me feel the strongest and most empowered was camp - and I didn’t have to leave that all behind in pursuit of a graduate degree and some ambiguous career path.
Today, sitting at my desk at FJC, I realize that I have so much to thank all my camping communities for. The most invaluable thing they have given me is a community with shared values and traditions to belong to. My camp communities have always largely consisted of some combination of cousins, siblings, and parents. Now, most of my family has long since grown up and moved on from life at camp, but I have continued returning each summer and found myself met by a new family in the form of a community made up of campers, mentors, and camp friends. Without FJC, the powers behind One Happy Camper, Cornerstone, and my new Fellowship, my camp and life journeys would certainly look very different. I am beyond grateful to them for all they have done to make camp an accessible and meaningful place for me and my family and for helping me turn my passion for all things camp into a livelihood.
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Rachel Anszelowicz works at FJC as a fellow, focused on a portfolio of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. She attended Camp Laurelwood for five summers as a camper and has spent the past ten summers at New Jersey Y Camps, where she most recently worked as the assistant director of NJY Teen Camp.