By: Leah Sternberg, alumna and rabbinical student
My favorite part of being at Camp George was the presence of Maple Lake. In fact, I think I may have been spoiled by growing up on Maple Lake because it has turned me into a believer that a camp is not the true experience without a natural body of water. Camps around the country may beg to differ, arguing that the skills and experiences one has at summer camp exist regardless of the geographical features that surround it. Nevertheless, I hold true to the belief that nothing builds character quite like being told to jump into the lake at 9 am on a freezing June morning, before the sun has had the chance to fully rise and bring the water to a bearable temperature for any warm blooded creature. Not only did Maple Lake force me to build character, learn practical skills and provide years of endless adventures tipping sailboats and spotting turtles, but it gave me an outlet to look at Judaism in a new way.
Before arriving at Camp George as an eight-year-old, my Judaism was framed within the walls of my synagogue. Summer after summer, that scope began to widen and soon it became defined by the love of Judaism Camp George inspires in each camper that steps through those gates. This inspiration partly developed through the help of dedicated staff and faculty, who set an example for the type of Jewish role model I hope I am able to be. But for me personally, it also came from the ability to learn using the physical features Northern Ontario provides. The Beit Tefillah situated in the middle of the woods yet still manages to overlook the lake allows for an incredible dichotomy of sounds that transforms what it means to pray silently. Havdallah at the Point was not just singing around a campfire, because as we sang the words of Shavuah Tov and hoped for a week of peace, the rocking ski boats in the background gave a tangible reminder of the excitement that was awaiting us in the days ahead. The long canoe stretches in the midst of a trip to Algonquin Park was not simply paddling, but time meant for deep and meaningful relationships to form with fellow campers turned lifelong friends.
Not only is Maple Lake a place of learning and exploring, but it is a place that provides a setting for prayer, reflection, and meditation. It fosters new relationships between the most unlikely of friends and strengthens the bonds between best friends as they grow together from year to year. Maple Lake is there as a constant while campers grow from one phase to the next. It allows for the formation of pivotal moments, from their first time up on water skis to their first experiences of canoeing across the lake.
We learn in the Torah that water is often used as a metaphor for God. Like those bodies of water, rain, and wells, Maple Lake is truly holy. My love of Judaism came from the holiness of this body of water, and set me on a path to explore how I could grasp that connection and continue growing and learning as I moved on from Camp George. Camp encouraged me to explore how I could incorporate nature and the rituals of water into my personal and professional practice as a rabbi. Lastly, camp serves as a constant reminder both as a Jewish Professional and as a person, that Judaism is not restricted to the confines of a synagogue, but is living, breathing, and flowing in the world around us each and every day.
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