By Cantor Katie Oringel, Temple Sinai, Toronto, ON
Let’s be honest! I was a rare breed of child who went back to URJ Camp Coleman year after year excited for t’fillah (prayer services). While my peers looked forward to sports and swimming, crafts and drama, communal singing towards God really moved my soul. It’s no great surprise that I went on to become a cantor. In fact, while leaving camp for the last time, I took stock of my return one day as a faculty member.
For the past ten years, my summer camp home has been URJ Camp George in the Muskoka lakes region of Ontario, returning each year to support Jewish experiences throughout camp. I’m relatively confident that t’fillah is still not at the top of the list of activities that campers and staff wait 335 days for. People are at the top of that list. The friendships created at camp are the essence of a successful summer. They become sacred and even holy to each young person.
These sacred relationships take time. They begin as youth as their cabin mates encourage them to climb higher and higher on the ropes course. They are nurtured when counselors sing and dance birkat hamazon with the same ruach as Netta Barak’s ‘I’m Not Your Toy’. They are nourished as campers share their tuck and celebrate a great water ski. They reach a new level of depth during t’fillah.
Camp George takes great pride in a remarkably picturesque beit t’fillah (house of prayer/chapel). You cross two small bridges to enter what seems a holy island. Multi-colored, youth-created tallitot sway in the breeze. Row after row of young people sit closely, surrounded by tall trees, under a canopy shaded by the rustling leaves. To our front is the shimmering blue water of Maple Lake. It is almost too easy to get lost in the beauty of the space. What a gift though to take the time to just be with the community in this place, singing, praying and reflecting. This gift of time is perhaps another ‘best part of camp that doesn’t make most people’s list’.
During my last program of my week on faculty, a cabin created a skit about the great t’feelings they get from t’fillah. It was a wonderful reminder that if I was inspired by this aspect of camp, I’m wrong to think this generation does not also have campers who love praying at camp. We are blessed to have amazing leadership from returning Director of Jewish Life, Leo Baeck rabbinical student, Deborah Blaustein and longtime George-nik, Aaron Penciner. Our songleaders, led by Jacob Brickman as head songleader along with Harley, Yael and Max set a perfect tone for the summer. Music and prayer will surely weave together friendships and community. Who knows? Perhaps t’fillah will squeak into a few ‘Top 10 lists’ this summer!