September 01, 2015

Summer Camp and Social Justice: A Recipe for Tikkun Olam

20150731 102354

When my parents sent me to Camp Alonim, a Jewish overnight summer camp in Simi Valley, California, I was completely unaware of the empowering journey I was about to embark on.

Throughout my time as an Alonim camper (I started attending camp when I was 10!) and later as a staff member, community, social responsibility, tzedakah, and tikkun olam were strong reoccurring themes that tapped a deep and sensitive cord in me. Our counselors and staff members took every opportunity to infuse our daily rituals with meaningful Jewish lessons. Growing more aware of the challenges our world faced, particularly in a Jewish context, was a unique experience that made me keener on adopting the role as an instigator of change. It was a safe space to talk about controversial topics. Just a few of the very important issues we grappled with included genocide, hunger, environmental issues, bullying, racism, and gender inequality. I remember at the end of our discussions feeling a cacophony of emotions – anger, disbelief, confusion, inspiration, and a burning desire to learn more.

I didn’t realize then just how much of a profound impact this experience had on my values and goals, until I was faced with the inevitable questions from family and friends as I inched my way closer to the end of my college career: “What do you want to do with your life?” and more importantly, “What is your purpose?” As I contemplated those questions, I realized that I had been consistently drawn to academic programs, internships and volunteer positions that involved social justice oriented work, so that seemed like the most logical career to pursue. It was only after I began working at MAZON and assumed responsibility for engaging the next generation of Jewish anti-hunger advocates through our summer camp program that I fully came to recognize that my yearning to be an active contributor in this field stemmed from my socially conscious Jewish camp community.

20150731 103045When I returned to my beloved Camp Alonim this summer to teach 10-12 year olds about hunger, I was excited to pass on the incredible gift I was given so many years ago. Throughout the first session of our two-day program, we discussed what it means to be food insecure and the many different struggles people face that result in their challenge to afford food. They shared with me their experiences interacting with hungry Americans and they frustration they felt about not being able to help more. I explained that there was a way that they could in fact amplify their efforts, by using their voices to fight this injustice. The second day marked their venture into advocacy. I asked them if they had ever stood up against someone they didn’t agree with or questioned something they thought was not fair. Story after story, I became very aware of their strong sense of responsibility. We discussed what it means to be an advocate for someone else and that it doesn’t take much more than a firm and confident voice. After reflecting on the things they learned about food insecurity and advocacy, they wrote down their thoughts in the form of a letter addressed to the President. Seeing campers connect the dots between hunger and our Jewish values and hearing their impassioned thoughts about human dignity was truly inspiring. 

As summer winds down and our camp programming ends, it is my hope that the campers we reached are inspired to have the same intense dedication to do more that I felt so many years ago. And, of course, I hope it stays with them – we need all the social justice advocates we can get!