By: Lauren Viner
Camp George follows me wherever I go. It is in the conversations I have with colleagues, get togethers with friends, conferences I attend and even family Shabbat dinners. I am what they call a “camp lifer.” No matter how many years it’s been since I spent a summer up at Maple Lake, Camp George will always be a home away from home.
In the 90’s my mom (former steering committee member, Debra Viner) sat on a committee to have a URJ camp put in Canada. So, in 1999 when the camp opened, my parents registered me to go for the first session. I couldn’t help but feel upset, because I wouldn’t be allowed to attend the other camp I had been attending, all summer. I remember walking off the bus with my tackle box in one hand, my pillow in the other hand; immediately getting bombarded with people and energy at the top of the hill. Those three and a half weeks flew by, and before I knew it, the session was over and I was getting back on the bus to head home. The thing I took with me that summer, and many of the summers after, were the friendships. My closest friends and the people I speak with every day, all attended Camp George. They always seemed to get me on a deeper level than friends from school.
One of the philosophies I feel is truly rooted in my life is my passion for informal education. I have always felt strongly that Camp George was different than other camps I had attended, because it wasn’t just about the specialty areas at camp. It was about experiencing Judaism within such a unique environment. As a former Leo Baeck Day School teacher, I always tried to infuse that passion when I taught a lesson. It allowed for me to connect to my students on a deeper level and, because so many of them attended various camps, they understood and connected to me, as well.
Throughout high school, I was always involved in NFTY-NEL, and in university, I was involved in Kesher (both are Reform programs for different age-groups). In 2004, I went on a Kesher-Birthright trip to Israel with 15 other camp friends. I have recently just returned from leading a Kesher-Birthright trip, and I am going on another one in February. I can’t wait. It was such an incredible experience seeing Israel through others’ eyes. When we did the Friday night service overlooking Jerusalem, I couldn’t help but visualize overlooking Maple Lake and doing the same prayers and the same tunes with people who attend other URJ camps across the U.S.A. It really made me realize how small the world is and how close our connections can be. Meeting someone else who grew up at G.U.C.I or O.S.R.U.I (other URJ camps) and having friends in common, or even knowing that their camp experience was probably very similar to mine was extremely powerful.
I have also had the wonderful experience of hosting off-season conferences this past fall up at Maple Lake. Showing people around and introducing myself as a camp alumnus is something I am very proud of, and I never shy away from doing. I am so happy that I get to watch the new camper village being built. To see how far camp has come since that inaugural summer in ’99: when we first pulled into camp and the only buildings on the property were the dorms and the cabins down the hill. To think of all the kids that will experience camp for the first time this coming summer, and what they will see when the buses pull in, puts a smile on my face. I hope their camp George experience will have just as much of an impact on their lives, as it did on mine – because George got me here, and I can’t wait to see where it will follow me to next!
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