We come from far-flung communities and keep different customs, but all CYJers connect as parts of the Jewish family. For many of our campers, camp is the only place where they’ve been surrounded by kids like them, kids they don’t have to explain things to, who understand their cultural background. They get to see new sides of their people, learn new parts of their history and tradition, and make connections to their family living abroad.
Even further, CYJ campers can internalize the specialness of our people, our resiliency and our accomplishment. And by learning more about how they fit into Judaism, they leave with greater ownership of their own identities.
All of our programming can be linked back to our four core Jewish principles. Though our campers represent the whole spectrum of Jewish upbringings, we believe our core principles can appeal to any denomination of our tribe:
- Unity: All Jews are part of one family
- Education: We only gain by learning more—about each other, about the world, and about our people
- Righteousness: We should all continue growing as ethical and moral people, in whatever way we define that
- Service and Leadership: Every single person who comes through CYJ has the power to make a real difference in the world
Jewish Programming at Camp
The center of our daily Jewish programming is our morning tfillot, or “prayer services”. Every day after breakfast, the camp divides into age groups for the classic CYJ Shacharit (morning service). We hope to familiarize our campers with the most fundamental prayers so that they can feel comfortable wherever they go in life. These groups may also discuss the meanings behind the prayers and consider how they relate personally to their messages. At times, we’ve offered a more traditional service for campers and staff when there is sufficient interest.
At meals, campers will learn the traditional pre-meal and post-meal blessings. In the educational segments of their afternoon activities, some of our campers will study more Jewish basics, like the customs of Shabbat and the major holidays of the year. A memorable project for our Tsofim is their Kosher Hunt, where they use their new-found kosher expertise to scavenge a real grocery store for kosher items. And of course, all of our Zionist, Israel programming has a Jewish side to it…
And then there’s Shabbat.
A Shabbat at Camp
Shabbat is a very special time at camp, the highlight of the week for many CYJers. It’s a time where we step back from our normally action-packed schedule and relax, stay in the moment, and connect with each other in a deeper way. No one in the world does Shabbat quite like CYJ-Texas, which could explain why so many alumni think back on it so fondly.
CYJ is a shomer Shabbat camp, meaning we don’t use electricity or fire, write, play instruments, or do any other creative work from Friday night to Saturday night. Normal activities end early on Friday afternoon, giving the whole camp time to picking up the grounds and change into their best Shabbat outfits.
Before Shabbat begins, the camp gathers for the Kabbalat Shabbat Show. After preparing all week, campers in the dance, music, and video electives perform and display everything they learned for the community. We move to Friday evening services in our Beit Ha’am, followed by a delicious Shabbat dinner, (chicken, matzah ball soup, potatoes, challah, mmmmm….). When everyone is full, campers divide by ages into different oneg activities around the grounds.
After a late wake-up Shabbat morning, we assemble for breakfast and morning services. Campers can choose from a variety of t’fillot (prayer) options ranging from an Orthodox minyan, to a traditional Young Judaea service, and even to a nature walk service. The camp regroups for the Torah reading, (a selection of three segments from that week’s parsha), followed by a Parsha Play, (a riveting skit performed by our most theatrical staff).
The rest of the day is full of relaxation and Shabbat-friendly activities, including swimming, resting, and games. Saturday evening, we gather for a moving Havdallah, the service that marks the end of Shabbat. But we’re not going to bed until after Saturday night fun, where the whole camp joins in a rousing session of rikud (Israeli dancing).
Other Jewish Offerings
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Study
If requested in advance, counselors can oversee a camper’s bar or bat mitzvah preparation. Studying would be scheduled during the daily rest hour and can occur as often as a parent prefers. Staff will remind the camper to study and will sign a document to indicate when he’s finished a lesson. Be sure to discuss your expectations with your child before sending them to camp, and don’t forget to include the necessary study materials when packing for the summer.
As a pluralistic camp, we work hard to cater to the spiritual needs and practices of our whole Jewish family. To that end, we keep our kitchens and our camp entirely kosher, maintaining separate milk and meat kitchens. We also have an eruv—a fence that designates the camp as one property—to enable our Shabbat observers to carry their belongings in the public space. At camp, we also keep Shabbat at our own level, meaning that we don’t use electricity, don’t participate in art projects, and ask all members of the Camp community to respect these Shabbat rules in public areas around Camp.