From Jew-ish to Jewish: How Sleepaway Camp and BBYO Changed My Life

After my Bat Mitzvah in 2014, I told my parents I would never go to synagogue again. As a kid, I was not a fan of going to Hebrew school. It was twice a week, two hours each time, and ultimately felt like the biggest waste of time to twelve-year-old me. My game plan was to memorize my Torah portion and be done with it. While 7 years later, I still haven’t gone back to a synagogue, I’m more connected to my religion than ever before.

During the summer of 2013, my parents decided it was time to ship me away to sleepaway camp. That was the first of eight summers I have spent at Camp Louise, and camp quickly became everything to me. Camp Louise, located in Maryland, gave me my best friends and the best experiences. Being at a Jewish sleepaway camp gave me the connection to Judaism that I wish I had as a kid. Unlike in Hebrew school, Judaism at camp was no longer about learning the alphabet or memorizing Torah portions, it was about so much more.

At camp, Judaism was about eating Shabbat dinner with your bunk, crying during Havdalah due to the overwhelming feeling of community and love, enjoying Saturday morning services in the sun, and dancing your heart out at Friday night folk dance. I loved that camp was the one place I felt connected to Judaism, and once I re-established my religious roots, I wanted to continue exploring the Jewish community.

Quite a few of my camp friends got involved with BBYO, an international Jewish youth group, in eighth or ninth grade. Back then, I didn’t think BBYO was for me — it seemed too Jewish. Outside of going to camp, I was rejecting opportunities to further connect with Judaism because I didn’t think I wanted to “become more Jewish.” However, everything changed the summer before my junior year of high school, when a few of my camp friends wanted to start their own BBYO chapter.

To start a BBYO chapter and obtain a temporary charter, there must be 12 founding members who have joined. I agreed to join “Moco BBG” in November of 2017 under the impression that I wouldn’t attend a single meeting or event. My friends needed members, and I had no problem joining just to help them out. Little did I know, BBYO and Galim BBG, the name we chose once gaining our permanent charter, would become incredibly important to me.

While at the beginning I didn’t care about the religious aspects of BBYO, I immediately fell in love with the friends I made and the leadership opportunities it presented. Despite intending on never going, I quickly got very involved. By the Spring of 2018, I ran for a position on my chapter’s executive board and won. In various board positions, I planned events that connected sisterhood, community service, and Judaism. The religious aspects of BBYO that I once tried so hard to avoid became some of my favorite parts of the experience. I looked forward to leading my chapter in Havdalah at our Saturday evening programs and experiencing huge Shabbat dinners at conventions. BBYO further connected me to my religion in ways I never imagined possible, nor originally wanted.

While my time in BBYO has come to an end, my camp experience is far from over. This upcoming summer will be my ninth spent at Camp Louise, and camp will always mean a lot to me. Not only did camp give me my best friends and the best community, but it reconnected me to Judaism, and for that, I will always be grateful.