There was a time in my youth where the phrase “community service” only signified some kind of mandated punishment. To me, there was no benefit that I would experience from doing volunteer work. I felt that the only people benefiting from this activity were either the people who would receive the fruits of my labor, or the organization itself. I was immature and wrong.
After I graduated from high school and had the opportunity to leave the sheltered suburbs of my childhood, my perspective on community service slowly began to shift. This was an important period of time where I could redefine my identity. I took specific moments to reflect on who I was, how I impact those around me, and who I wanted to be.
My honest reflection revealed that I was pretty darn selfish for the first 18 years of my life. My parents were supporting me financially and I really only focused on baseball, school, and my friendships. I spent virtually all of my time focused on myself. After my period of reflection I felt that I needed to change my contribution to those around me. I had time that didn’t need to be devoted to myself. Initially, I tried spending more time with family and doing more work around the house when I was home, though, these attempts at filling the “selfish” void felt unfulfilling. My “ah-ha moment” came during the first semester of my sophomore year at Denison University. As a member of the baseball team I was granted the opportunity to read to kindergartners of the Newark Ohio school district that winter. To give some context, the Newark area has experienced a bought of poverty over the last 30 years, and most of these students were from disadvantaged families.
On a cold February morning, 2 teammates and I read a short story to two different groups of students in the Newark library basement. After finishing the story, we were told to stress how smart the students were and that a college education is a worthy goal. I was blown away with the impressionability of the children and how much I felt that afternoon had positively impacted their psyches. Not only did I feel that the students benefited from our volunteer work, but this feeling itself made ME feel good. I had never volunteered in a way where my actions directly helped someone sitting next to me. This experience made me want to continue giving back to the communities in which I’m a member, and even to those that I am not.
The moral of this story is that community service can be a mutually beneficial endeavour. Volunteer work isn’t a punishment, it is awesome. Not only does it help those who are in need, but it also creates a positive legacy for you. Ask yourself the question “how will I be remembered”? Was I a selfish guy who never lent a hand, or was I someone who improved the lives of others? This specific time was important to my development as a person, yet it can take place at any time for any person who chooses to reflect honestly. Organizations desperately need volunteers and those who volunteer benefit as much, if not more than those they are serving.
When Jewish immigrants started flowing into the US in the early 20th century, summer camps were created with the intention of assimilating the immigrant children to American culture. More than a century later, Jewish camps have evolved into a place for kids to discover their Jewish identities while having fun and making lifelong friendships. Jewish values can be found everywhere at camp, from the dining hall to the lake.
Summer camps are overflowing with spirit. It can be found in the dining hall cheers, song sessions, and the classic color war. On the surface, these activities might just seem like smart ways to use up some of the campers’ endless energy. If you look a little closer, however, they are teaching campers the Jewish values of spirit, joy, and celebration.
One of the hardest Jewish values to teach to children is connection to Israel. Getting kids who have never even left the Western Hemisphere to appreciate a faraway country can sound like an impossible mission. When campers bond with Israeli counselors or master a complicated Israeli dance, they are already forming a connection to Israel without leaving the country.
Few events can evoke a warm-fuzzy feeling like an all-camp bonfire or a cabin dance party. Camp makes kids feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. This is a perfect introduction to the Jewish value of community. As campers get older, they might want to find the same kind of Jewish community that they first found at camp.
Many consider respect of nature to be a Jewish value that is derived from tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Camps provide campers with a variety of ways to connect with the outdoors, from canoeing to horseback riding. Camping trips are a rite of passage that give even the most timid campers a sense of appreciation for the natural world. Even if the trip doesn’t go as planned, the memories and bonds from these moments in the wilderness are priceless.
Even if just one or two camp traditions stick with the campers, Jewish camps have done their job. As the campers get older, the values that they learned from these traditions will encourage them to stay connected with Judaism.
You can continue keeping your campers connected by bringing them to volunteer at the warehouse! Nothing teaches Jewish values like Tzedukah. Deliver food as a family, and you will continue the Jewish learning in your home. Our Rosh Hashanah Delivery is Sunday, September 22, 2019. Please watch for more information to follow.