By Ilan Simanin, Hamamah Havurah Merakez
In 2009, I arrived at Newark Airport and quickly found myself on a bus to – what I would later learn to love – Camp Tel Yehudah. At the time, I didn’t quite understand where I was headed, or what to expect. Camp was different – different for me and different for camp. You see, 2009 marked the first year of Havurah, a program built for the Russian-speaking Jewish community. The program spanned two weeks and introduced some of camp’s traditions to over a hundred Russian-speaking teens.
Falling in love with camp was hard. It took me some time to adjust to camp’s – somewhat unique – customs, and Havurah’s separation from the rest of camp certainly did not help. But when camp did come together, I finally understood why so many people love this small spot on the banks of the Delaware River. My favorite moment at camp – a moment that continues to be a favorite of mine – is Kabbalat Shabbat. I wouldn’t consider myself observant, certainly not a member within the Orthodox sect of Judaism, but there’s something special about the way camp performs Kabbalat Shabbat. It was at this moment I realized that Judaism, for me, centers around community. As I listened to the group’s melodic singing, I made the decision to insert myself into the Young Judaea and Camp Tel Yehudah family.
From Havurah chanich (camper) to a Havurah merakez (unit head), my journey at Camp Tel Yehudah certainly did not follow the “normal” path. With the summer dwindling down, and my first summer as a merakez under my belt, I look forward to embracing camp’s old traditions as I take on new challenges.