A Misfit Returns to Camp: The Punk and the Summer Funk
As a teenager, I felt alienated at my Jewish camp—but it helped me become the Jew I am today
That day, it became obvious to me just how much of my Jewish identity as an adult had been shaped by my adolescent summers at camp. It wasn’t that camp taught me how to be Jewish—it was that camp, by being what I didn’t want, taught me what kind of Jew I did want to be.
In some ways, my tumultuous relationship with religion was exacerbated by my summers at OSRUI. The camp model for popularity doesn’t cater to young teenagers experimenting with an alternative mien, and the social repercussions of my punk phase were swift and brutal. Filled with resentment, I railed against camp for “ramming religion down my throat.” Years later, I realize that my rejection of being Jewish was, in many ways, a reaction to being rejected socially.
Allowing Judaism back into my life was the result of two forces: becoming more comfortable with my own identity, and being introduced to an environment where Judaism took on a more flexible context. The cultural aspects of the religion were not a priority at camp, so discovering them later on my own was both a surprise and a profound personal victory. I am no longer being told to stand unquestioningly behind Israel or go to prayer services twice a day; instead, I’ve cherry-picked the aspects of Judaism that speak to me most, a distinct step forward from my antireligion attitude 10 years ago. A rabbi would probably suggest I incorporate more of the religious aspects of Judaism, but for now, I’ve done enough to feel that I belong.
I have no doubts that in another 10 years I’ll have a different relationship with Judaism. Perhaps my bond to religion will grow stronger as I continue to mature, or maybe the opposite will happen. But I also feel confident that much of the reason I’ve come this far to begin with is because of camp. Only by being thrust into a very specific model of Judaism and then rejecting it was I able to embrace religion on my own terms later in life. A decade later, I’m finally comfortable with my own brand of Judaism, a handcrafted religion I’ve custom-built around my camper past.
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
Playing the game with men in the afternoon of life, trying to keep it from turning into evening