By Shalom Orzach

Often when visiting a restaurant, the waiter will tell you about their “specials”— items not necessarily on the traditional menu. I am very fortunate that, over the summer, I’m offered “specials” every day— not at restaurants, but during my visits to Jewish summer camps. My “host” at each camp takes me around to show me examples of their very best creations—the moments and carefully crafted experiences that build the fabric of their unique camp community. And it’s become clear that every Jewish camp offers something more than “what’s on the menu”.

Over the past few years I have been blessed to work with a sports specialty camp. I continue to be inspired by their remarkable work and wish to share a number of vignettes and observations about how their “specials” are integrated into the Jewish camp menu, expanding and enriching the palettes of their whole community.

In this camp, at the start of each day, a value is introduced—usually by the staff. Recognizing and smartly leveraging the “texts” familiar to this community, an ESPN sports clip will often be used to demonstrate the idea. For example, a clip of a well-known basketball player speaking of the struggle to shoot for the basket when so many in the crowd are doing everything possible to divert their attention would be used as an introduction to Kavanah, intention! At the closing ceremony of each day – called Siyum – bracelets with the value of the day in Hebrew and English are given out to those campers/ athletes that demonstrated it. By the end of each day, no one has any doubt as to what is meant by the value and how it finds expression both at camp and beyond.

Noteworthy is the way the coaches – many of whom are not Jewish – reference the value of the day in their summations of practice. These were among the most compelling sermons I had heard for a while! “Practice” here and in the lives of athletes is a given. So too is the manifestation of a practicing Jew. This is another profound example of ownership and awareness of the core mission that speaks far beyond semantics.

Another beautiful moment: one of the campers called a Rabbi “Coach” by mistake!  Here was the deepest understanding and validation of these synonymous roles and models.

This Jewish sports camp is unapologetically Jewish AND Sports AND Camp. When a camp can proudly articulate their core mission, manifesting it in everything they do, that robust foundation enables them to connect and smoothly integrate all the key educational values of their mission. I wish to invite and challenge all camps to show off their specialties, be they Zionist, Pluralist, Religiously-affiliated, surf-centric, arts-centric… the list goes on and on! It’s wonderful that traditional Jewish camp is always on the menu, and with so many specials to choose from, every camper can find the perfect Jewish camp to suit their tastes, providing nourishment and fulfillment.

Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter. He also serves as a faculty member for Foundation for Jewish Camp.