Not only have post Bar and Bat Mitzvah students begun to lose interest in their Jewish roots and values, but some young students have been deprived of the chance to interact with other Jewish children in their area. The best way for Jewish teenagers to continue on the path to Jewish adulthood and befriend kids just like them is through a Shabbaton weekend. I was stoked when I found out that my synagogue, Temple Bat Yahm, was offering a trip to Camp Hess Kramer, for the eighth grade Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) Adat Noar weekend. I couldn’t wait to expand my circle of Jewish friends, while enjoying the genuine Jewish sleep-away camp experience.
My congregation is made up of a small number of eighth grade students, so I was a bit nervous when I arrived to a bus load of new faces. We were greeted at the camp with open arms and a whole lot of music. I danced the night away with my friends, during the Israeli dancing song session, until it was time to prepare for Shabbat. Even though it was raining latkes and gefilte fish outside, the indoor Shabbat service was remarkable. Wearing white clothing for Shabbat, we rejoiced in song throughout the entire service, while enjoying the company of one another. Our musical service lit up the dark room and brought happiness to all. We topped off the night with kosher chicken cuisine, a delicious end to a wonderful first day.
On Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early for our Shabbat morning service. The camp had dried up after all the rain, so we were able to participate in the most beautiful outdoor service I had ever witnessed. We sat on wooden benches, surrounded by nature, as we took in the spectacular scenery. During the service, we gave thanks for this wonderful opportunity, which brought us all together, from near and far.
After our service, I had to get my game face on; we were about to face off in the most intense, brutal sport ever known to man. It was time for the ultimate, camp-wide gaga tournament. We split up into teams, pairing one cabin of boys with one cabin of girls. Each team quickly came up with ridiculous team names and the most obnoxious cheers that they could think of. The object of the game was to use the ball to hit the players on the other team, below the knees, until one team was left standing.
After the cheer-off, my team was first in the pit. Believe me, I’m no gaga expert, but I held my ground all through the preliminary rounds. Our team cruised all the way to the final round. We were forced to go head to head against the only other undefeated team left in the arena. Our teams battled it out for a countless amount of time, until we finally came out victorious!
During Chofesh, or my free choice activity time, a small group of brave campers and I went on the ultimate adventure; we decided to take the grueling hike to the peak of Hilltop Hess Kramer. We dared to climb where no other camper would ever dream of going.
It had been raining all weekend, so we were ankle-deep in mud and misery. We climbed the hill, legs searing with pain, and toes blistering from walking in stiff rain boots all day. We clutched the thin rope for dear life, because it was the last thing keeping us from plunging down the side of one of the steepest hills in California in a filthy
mudslide. This tiny rope was literally our life line. Our destination, the giant menorah at the top of the mountain, was lost in a sea of fog, but we trudged on.
After climbing for what seemed like miles up the steep mountain, we finally reached the top. We triumphantly broke through the barricade of fog and
were nearly blinded by the beautiful sun, glistening along the horizon. Once at the top I watched in awe as I saw the world curve beneath my feet; a beautiful waterfall of clouds poured down on my footsteps. My body was instantly relieved of all pain, as I gazed at the most breathtaking view I have ever seen. This was my first glimpse at heaven, yet I felt so alive. I was overtaken by the beauty of my surroundings. The sweet Malibu air rolled in from the beach, thousands of feet below. Our small group of hikers decided to hold a small service at the top of the mountain, in order to savor this special moment. We rested at the foot of the giant menorah, arm in arm, as we each said a few words about our amazing triumph. That day, I learned to put my trust in the hands of my friends as they led me on one of the most amazing journeys I will ever experience.
Later that day, we found out that we would get to participate in a talent show at the campfire that night. Since writing and sports are pretty much my only talents, I decided to dedicate my practice time to helping my friends rehearse and prepare their acts. I helped a couple of girls in my cabin write a hilarious skit, and I helped choreograph a hip hop dance routine for one of my cabin mates. Finally, I helped two of my close friends from school, Haley Cohen and Nicky Sandoz, prepare their duet, to a song by Green Day. They both have phenomenal voices, and I wanted to help them show everyone how talented they really are.
Before the campfire, the whole camp took a small hike up the hill for our Havdallah service. We put our arms around each other, as we watched the sun set over the water. We sang a few songs while we waited for the braided candle to burn out, leaving us in the cold, darkness of the night. It had just dawned on me that this would be my last night at Camp Hess Kramer, so I was determined to make this the best night ever. We quietly walked back down the hill, wishing that this weekend never had to end.
After gorging on as many roasted marshmallows and s’mores as we could cram into our mouths, it was time for the talent show to begin. All of the acts were amazing, and they were so original. Throughout the course of the night, I got to see silent skits, reggae songs, guitar solos and many more outstanding performances. I was so proud to see all of my new friends display their talents that night. Some of the performances were so incredible that they made my heart race right out of my chest (or maybe that was just a side effect from the s’mores-induced sugar rush).
In the morning, the camp was much quieter than usual. Everyone was depressed, because this was the last day of camp. We ate a delicious breakfast before gathering outside for our L’hitraot Friendship Circle. I was surprised how difficult it was to say goodbye to these kids that I had only known for the past two days. Thanks to the BJE Adat Noar weekend, I was able to interact and befriend other Jewish teens that I would have never gotten the chance to talk to, if it weren’t for this trip. In just two days, I have made friends and memories that will last a lifetime.
I created so many amazing memories on my trip. I hope that I will be making many more of these unforgettable memories with you on my next Shabbaton weekend. I’ll see you then!