By Sydney Siegel
Camp has changed my life in so many ways. It has shaped me into the person I am today. It’s where I found myself and my Jewish identity. It is where I first felt connected to Israel. Words cannot express how much I appreciate the privilege of spending the past 8 summers at URJ camps. I grew up at Camp Coleman. It was the first place I climbed a rockwall, cooked Shakshuka, and tie dyed my own shirts. Almost 2 years after my last summer at Camp Coleman, I still think back to the incredible memories I have made at my second home.
Just like camp, tennis has been an extremely influential part of my life. I have been playing for as long as I can remember. For 7 years I sacrificed my weekly tennis practice in order to spend a month at camp. During my gap year last summer between camper and staff member, I chose to combine my love of tennis and camp at 6 Points Sports Academy. My time spent there was the most influential 12 days of my life. Every time I play tennis, I think back to last summer and immediately search for the encouragement and advice I received. I remember Nir, one of the Israeli coaches, constantly reminding me to “Focus on using more spin because the ball will stay in play and you have more time to get ready for the next shot” Nir was such an influential part of my 6 Points experience. Last month Harel, one of the other coaches at 6 Points, drove an hour from his house to my kibbutz to play a match against me. I was thrilled to see him and we had a great time.
There truly is no place like URJ camp. Jewish teens like myself learn so much about themselves while strengthening their connection to Judaism and Israel through Tfillah, programming, and thought. I would not be in Israel today if it weren’t for camp. Even before ever visiting Israel, I felt connected because I was influenced by the Israeli staff surrounding me. I remember sitting with my cabin, learning about a kibbutz 3 years ago at Coleman. I used to think this was far from anything I could experience, but now I live on one. Last summer we had a program about the IDF. I learned about the army and my counselors’ different jobs. This past week I spent 4 days at an army base for Gadna where I learned and experienced the army and what the life of a soldier is like. The connections I have with Israel all began with camp. Thank you all for changing our lives and strengthening our connection with Israel.
Sydney recently shared her story during Shabbat services in Israel as delegations from all of the Union for Reform Judaism Camps gathered with their Israeli shlichim (counselors) for a week of learning and training.