By Shelley Niceley Groff
Not long before Shabbat, everyone at camp had been on the court, in the field, in the pool—playing hard. Pushing themselves. Testing limits. Going for that extra second, one more basket, another jump. Maybe even a goal. The campers at URJ 6 Points Sports Academy are athletes, all with great energy and passion for their sport. Together with their coaches, and even the visiting faculty, they give it their all.
Soon afterward, entering the Holy Stadium (also known as the Beit Am) you can feel the conclusion of the week, the transition into a day of much-needed rest as everyone files in and takes their seats. Like Jewish camps everywhere, the songleader (aka music coach) is singing, tonight accompanied by a drum circle of campers. Some have replaced their baseball caps or sweatbands with kippot.
Among the many things I love when I visit our URJ camps is seeing the many ways camps incorporate Reform Jewish values and practice into camp life. That was so beautifully apparent during Shabbat.
At several points during the service, groups of campers were invited to reflect on the core values that serve as the foundation of 6 Points Sports Academy—sportsmanship, leadership, pride, growth, teamwork, and intention. Some spoke of the importance of that value to their particular sport; others to their Judaism. Every reflection was met with snaps of encouragement from fellow campers and looks of pride from counselors and coaches. Every dorm has athletes of multiple sports, yet every dorm itself is also a team… an extended family while they are here, and beyond. It’s amazing how deeply bonds can form in a 12 day session.
Shabbat morning began with the Tikkun Olam 5k run/walk around Camp. Some took it very seriously, hoping to be the first across the finish line. Others, including me, enjoyed more of a leisurely stroll around camp and the opportunity to make some new friends in the process. After enough time for a quick shower, we returned to the Holy Stadium for Shabbat morning services. Never before have I heard a d’var Torah (Balak) delivered as a broadcast by Torah Center, relaying the story of the NBA draft pick chosen for his embodiment of teamwork and ethics and the realization by the one not chosen that he needs a new coach….one who will guide him as not just an athlete but as a human being. An important lesson for all of us. And if I didn’t already clearly understand that this is Shabbat at sports camp, the chanting of SHAB-BAT. SHA-LOM… SHAB-BAT SHA-LOM back and forth from dorm to dorm across the Holy Stadium at the conclusion of services would certainly have driven that home. Days later, I’m still feeling the Ruach.
This particular Shabbat coincided with the last day of the session. So with Havdalah came the Firefly ceremony. Each camper was invited to cast his or her “firefly” into the lake, with a wish. As we watched the individual and collective wishes of the 6 Points Sports athletes float before us, Shabbat and the first session of camp concluded with song, cheers, (and a few tears) and lots of camaraderie.
We are a team in the true communal sense… from coach to faculty to staff to counselor to CIT to seasoned camper to newest camper, to guest. It’s about all of us as athletes, as people, as Jews, and the realization that we are all of those things together. I can’t wait for my next Shabbat at sports camp.
Shelley Niceley Groff serves on the URJ North American Board and is the URJ Lay Leader for Youth and North American Camping Chair.