by Lisa Langer, RJE
It was a pleasure for my soul and a (good) pain for my muscles to immerse in URJ 6 Points Sports Academy-CA (The 6) for a week on faculty. The pleasure came when experiencing the joy and enthusiasm of everyone at camp: leadership, campers, counselors, mishlachat, coaches. The (good) pain emerged after hours and hours on the court with muscles aching from drills, conditioning, games and competition.
Jewish summer camp is magic for many reasons: the feelings of being immersed in a Jewish community with common values, histories and rituals is profound. Yet to be surrounded by people who share interests and passions on top of the ‘Jewish’, is extraordinary! The community of Jewish athletes at The 6 lives and breathes sport, which is seamlessly entwined with the ‘Jewish’ that is also ever-present. Core Jewish values that guide and inspire the athletes are introduced daily and integrated into the drills and games by staff and coaches. Campers mention the values regularly, strive to embody them and proudly wear them on their wrists when someone notices how they live the value and gives them a bracelet as an acknowledgement.
It became clear to me how integrated the values are when a few days after everyone at tennis had named a kavanah/intention that they wanted to focus on during the session, a camper turned from a drill frustrated with a shot and exclaimed, “My drop shot is so weak, I’m changing my kavanah to work on it!” That moment was an ace! Vividly illustrating that learning and living Jewish values happens when and where space is made for them to thrive.
It is truly a kehillah kedosha/holy community where everyone cares about and for each other on and off the field. Those who struggle with any of the typical summer camp challenges (new surroundings, food choices, group activities and sleeping away from home) as well as those challenges unique to a sports camp (lugging equipment, staying hydrated, missing the play or feeling fatigued) are supported by other campers and staff. Competition is fierce, but so is the drive to live out loud with the pride of being Jewish athletes.
At The 6, where being Jewish and being an athlete matter equally, it is common to experience any of the following:
- Mifkad boker (morning circle) bursts with joy at the singing of modeh ani then irrupts in cheers and boos as sports scores are shared from around the world.
- During drills on the tennis court, players compare their favorite National Football League teams.
- Sports trivia questions and discussion prompts at meals lead to fierce debates about everything sport and seamless learning about Jewish athletes to emulate
- Walking from place to place includes debates about who is the best basketball player: LeBron James or Kyrie Irving.
- Camper written iyunim (reflections) during Shabbat services illustrate how prayer themes reinforce lessons from the field and visa versa.
The 6 is a community steeped in both sport and Jewish. It is a unique place for Jewish athletes to bring their whole selves into a community that will support them to individually and collectively thrive and strive to improve their game, their spirit and their way in the world.