By: Rebekah Houpt
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t really know what to expect before travelling from snowy Ontario to sunny California to spend the weekend with people I had never even met. Okay… that sounds a little sketchy, let me start again. My name is Rebekah Houpt, I live in Hamilton, Ontario, I am affiliated with URJ Camp George, and I am one of 25 URJ Service Corps fellows this year. For my Service Corps Fellowship, I am working at Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton. This past weekend marked the first ever winter training session for the URJ Service Corps, and we were lucky enough to be hosted by our friends at Camp Ramah California. There. That’s Better.
The weekend was absolutely jam-packed with programming sessions, leadership training, Jewish experiences and obviously friendship building and fun. I had the honour of meeting Service Corps fellows from all across the United States, and these (absolutely incredible) people were over-flowing with phenomenal ideas on how to enhance this year’s service corps projects, and also how to further the initiative in the future. In only four short days together we learned and practiced important skills that will help us with our positions. In addition we were able to come together as a group, and I made connections that I know I will have for a long time.
Besides the training itself, one of the highlights of the trip for me was actually the setting and the company – allow me to explain. As aforementioned, the conference took place at Camp Ramah California, one of many Conservative Jewish camps across North America. Having only ever been to a reform summer camp myself, there were a lot of customs and traditions that are practiced at many Ramah camps that myself and my URJ colleges were inexperienced in. Our fearless leaders suggested we use these differences as a learning opportunity, and that we be open to trying new things. Throughout the weekend we experienced many such things, including a typical Camp Ramah shomer Shabbat, and a lot more verses of the Birkat Hamazon than we were used to.
While these are not practices that we necessarily observed at our own camps, it was inspiring to see the Ramah staff so accustomed to them. This reminded me of many traditions we hold back home at Camp George. In keeping an open mind to new things, I realized that all of our camps have traditions and rituals, some religious and some just fun and quirky, that we do without even thinking because they have been done for so long. That seamlessness is a huge part of the “magic of camp” that we talk about so much, and that is something that we can all relate to, no matter what our cultural background.
I am so incredibly thankful for the Winter URJ Service Corps training opportunity, and truly think I have left with a stronger motivation and understanding for the Service Corps than when I arrived. To all of the organizers and supporters of the event, thank you. I learned and grew quite a bit for a span of four days-time, and even though it is quite possible that I will never see my 24 new friends from all across the United States in the same room ever again, I know that I have a connection with each and every one of them, and that is completely invaluable. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.