It's called Camp Massad, and for 50 years this camp has been providing Jewish children with an experience of cultural affirmation that empowers their entire lives.
I had the privilege of sharing a small portion of their 50th reunion gathering a couple of Friday evenings ago. For a while now I have wanted to write an end of summer reflection focusing on how organized children's summer camps effects our lives as adults. So, when the invitation came to attend this reunion I thought about how I could, as the awful saying goes, "kill two birds with one stone." I could focus on camping in general, but at the same time have this experience in, what is for me, a totally different cultural context. Fact is, nothing got "killed" in me. Instead a whole host of feelings, energy, and respect came very much alive and took flight. In a Christian context the spirit is imaged as a very alive bird, and the bird was soaring that evening.
Camp Massad is a Hebrew immersion camp rooted in a labour Zionist ideology, so I spent the entire evening in the midst of a language and milieu I had no personal knowledge of, but I understood the true message and essence of the camp. The true language at Massad is the language of believing in the creative spirit. As one alumni put it, "it's all about ruach (the breath of the spirit) and that energy, that life never leaves, no matter how old we get, the ruach is still there. And so we come back to celebrate it, to see old friends, to give thanks." The evening began with Friday sundown Shabbat, worship, all conducted in Hebrew. But over and over again throughout the evening I realized that I really did not need the language to understand the meaning of this gathering. This was a coming home for folks from as far away as Israel, various places across Canada, and as close as Winnipeg.
The campsite itself is rustic, basic, almost rugged. It is not a resort, rather it is a place of safety and retreat. Like all the summer camps I have known, I saw names and dates painted or carved on the walls and benches, and like all really lived in and owned by the campers' camps, I could see the pathways and places that became altars of memory. These are the pathways and places where the true art, the deepest feelings, and the most formative longings of a child moving to becoming adult, are marked.
As the evening progressed I asked the alumni gathering many questions about the meaning of this place. The word Massad for example means "basis, foundation, or foot of the mountain." It's a fitting name for the foundation that was laid in the lives of these former campers, and the foundation that is being laid in the lives of their children and soon the third generation will share in this basis for life.
This is not just a camp. Sharon Chisvin, in the alumni booklet, writes: "For many of us, Camp Massad in our youth was like a summer paradise; a Jewish Shangri-La where we could let loose, explore our culture and religion, raise our voices in songs, challenge ourselves and one another, create, produce, act and excel. It was a place where a boy's willingness to parade around in a dress or dance around wearing underwear on his head, or a girl's bravado to climb on the rafters, hammer in hand, were true indicators of leadership." Later in the same article she quotes Leona Billingkoff who was the camps "G'veret" or mother and administrator for 24 years. Leona stated, "I liked the idea of a camp where I could insist, and I could, that every boy with two left feet could learn to dance and every girl could learn to hammer nails, and they would all learn to sing and they would all end up on stage."
So whether these camps are based on culture, religion, or special needs they are not merely recreation. They are the basis/places of re-creation that enable the various "campers" to end up confident on the stage of life.
To all those camp directors, administrators, and counselors who wonder what results from those summers, the answer is made clear in this type of alumni reunion. What happens is that lives are made into blessings. Camps like Massad are not merely a huddle of buildings on some country land. What they are at their best are birth places of the soul, where the child who might have been ignored, fearful or invisible, finds much needed attention, support and colorful visibility.
For 50 years this particular camp has been pulling out all the stops on the creative spirit of its campers.
These alumni campers refer to themselves as "Massadniks," and they answer that question with their transforming joy of connection with each other. We are forever changed by those days at camp, forever able to trust the spirit of God so creatively set free in that safe place of belonging. Whatever culture or language we use, it is the communication of affirmation for each unique camper that breaks down all fear to become strength for the fullness of life.