CG’s Mark on My Jewish Journey – Arielle Branitsky
Life is often described as a journey – it’s not the destination that matters. It’s the path or the journey you take to get there. Likewise, developing our Jewish identities – our own personal connection to being Jewish – is also described as a journey. It is understood that our sense of self as Jews can evolve and change over the course of our lives. I am a Jewish educator, passionate about helping others to form their own meaningful connection to being Jewish. I believe that being Jewish enriches our lives, and I am motivated to play a part in creating innovative and vibrant Jewish communities. When I reflect on my journey so far, I am confident that Camp George played a key part on my journey to get where I am today.
At camp, we get to experience Judaism on our own terms in a community of peers. We get to ask questions, experiment, and try things out in an environment that supports us. We get to incorporate the traditions we learn at home into our own personal practice. For me, camp was an introduction to the Reform movement and the possibility of attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). I came to camp in my early twenties after completing my first job post-undergrad at the University at Albany Hillel. I was moving back to Toronto, and wasn’t quite sure what was next, but I had friends going back for another summer at Camp George, so I followed them. At Camp George (CG) I got to spend my summers in one of the most beautiful spots I had ever been and I discovered my own brand of spiritual practice..
For many years before coming to camp, I had chosen not to pray. I didn’t like prayer; it felt robotic. I didn’t understand it, and therefore, I didn’t want to do it. At camp, I heard prayers in tunes and melodies that were new to me but that inspired me to sing along. I discovered that I enjoyed praying in song with my camp community. I felt connected to something greater than myself and felt calmed by the experience. I experienced “Jewish joy” everytime our song leaders lead a song session and all of the camp would dance and sing along. To this day, I cherish Shabbat at camp, all the way from Kabbalat Shabbat to Havdallah.
At CG, I also got to meet and spend time with the Faculty. I lived in the lodge both summers that I worked at camp, first as Gan staff and then as Office Manager. I had many opportunities to speak to and get to know the rabbis, cantors, and educators that volunteered at camp throughout the summer. I was interested in their work and I was inspired by their camaraderie. Soon, I learned that they had all attended HUC-JIR, and I thought to myself, “I want to be a part of that club.” When I realized that I wanted to do a Masters in Jewish Education and Jewish Nonprofit Management, choosing HUC-JIR was a natural decision because I wanted an experience that was more than just school. I wanted a community, and I knew I would get that because of what I saw amongst our faculty at camp.
When I think about CG it stands out to me as a major mark on my Jewish journey, both in the past and present. I love the playground camp offers for playing with Jewish practice – respectfully of course. As I prepare for my second summer as the Dean of Jewish Living, I continue to be excited that I get to help our campers along on their journey’s throughout their time at camp. That I get to help our current faculty to create spaces where they can connect with and inspire our campers, and that I get to continue my own journey while spending time on Maple Lake.
Written by: Arielle Branitsky, Jewish Dean of Living