In the summer of 2003, when Ozi was not even 3 years old, I was asked by my boss to attend Camp Kesher, a Jewish family camp on Vashon Island. I had just graduated from Rabbinical school, moved cross country, had a toddler in tow, and had never been to Vashon Island. I knew no one and had little idea what I was walking into that first summer. My mother and I packed up a car for a long weekend with the Jewish community in the woods, on the beach...with little expectation and a lot of goodwill. What we discovered that Labor Day weekend was what I have come to refer to as :an organic Jewish community. What we saw when we got to the end of the long road towards the water were dozens upon dozens of Jewish families relaxing by the Puget Sound. Children on the beach. Adults playing board games. People playing guitar, reading, drawing, writng poetry, and talking to each other. We discovered something very special on the shores of the Salish Sea. Something that would change our lives. Camp Kesher, a Reform Jewish Family Camp.
Our meals were all in a big dining hall and we said the blessings before and after each meal. We sang together. We prayed outside by the water for Shabbat. Each year there was a scholar who came to offer Jewish learning. And while that completely appealed to Seth and me, no one was guilted into attending the scholar sessions. You could just go read a book. A nap. Whatever.
And there was a kids' camp. Oh, the glorious kids camp that would take my children and tire them out with all the amazing activities available at Camp Sealth, the host site for Camp Kesher. I usually only saw my kids at meals and bedtime. They were happy to make friends and be led by older Jewish teens who were role models. We were happy for some adult time.
Jewish prayer services were so sweet. Jewish people from many different congregations all over Washington singing and praying together! And there were always a bunch of multigenerational families like my own in attendance. Grandkids, grandparents, and parents all together in a Jewish place? A delight to witness. Over the years I got to know many local Jewish people beyond the synagogue I served. And each year I was able to spend quality time with members of my community who attended Camp Kesher.
We kept going back each year. Seth joined us too after a few years. It became an important family ritual and getaway before the busyness of the new school year and High Holidays. Erez was born and attended for his first time at 8 months. My mother continued to attend with us for years and years. She also ran the baby room where people could drop off very small children for an authentic Moroccan Grandma experience.
It all felt so natural. So right. So good. Jews on the shores of a sea, praying, learning, and playing! This is my tribe, my people: rarely have I ever felt so comfortable and at ease celebrating my Judaism with my family outside the home or synagogue. Outside! Havdalah under the stars. Hearing the water from the sea lapping at the shore while falling asleep. Waking up to the sounds of people praying the morning prayers under the morning sun.
What I am trying to say, what I am trying to tell you--we were blessed by Camp Kesher. Our entire family. It is a hallmark of our family experience. Ozi is now 22 years old and a senior at the U of Washington. Erez is 16 years old and a sophomore in High School. My mom is gone for 3 years. And Seth and I are now just upon our 20th anniversary of becoming rabbis. So much has changed for our family but Camp Kesher is still there. And Seth and I still attend. I will be there this year!
Kol Ami has a strong presence at Camp Kesher. We would love for even more of our members to attend. You do not need to have kids or be partnered. But you do need to enjoy being around children because A. they are amazing and adorable and B. Camp Kesher is a multigenerational space. Watching the children play on the beach is a highlight. Last year I ended up being "the adult in charge of the kids on the beach" several times--which was so special because my children were not there!
Camp Kesher costs. It is not expensive but it is not inexpensive. If you want to attend and have financial limitations please know we will find a way. This is an experience I want all of our members to have. It is too special to not invite and welcome everyone!
Check out the Camp Kesher website for more information and registration details. You belong at Camp Kesher! Learn more about our 20+-year tradition of inclusion
and register at https://www.campkesher.org -- early registration discounts expire March 7.