During the recent summer in Australia, Netzer Olami snifim (branches) in Sydney and Melbourne managed to host two successful – and safety compliant – summer camps for close to 190 children and youth with 35 counselors. MachaNetzer, for seniors, ran from January 6-12 and MachaNoar, for junior campers, ran from January 19-23.
Summer camps in Sydney were held at Emanuel Synagogue and North Shore Temple Emanuel and summer camps in Melbourne were held at the King David School, Temple Beth Israel, and a campsite.
The following was contributed by Jordan Warner-Hall, a Youth Worker from Netzer Sydney, when asked about his experience planning and leading on camp in times of Corona:
Change is the heart of Netzer, in our Judaism, in our education, in our aims as a movement. We strive to create a transformational experience oat camp for our chanichim (participants) and our madrichim (counselors/ leaders), and our communities. Our Jewish practice aims to respect tradition while meeting our current needs and shaping our collective future. But what does one do when current needs are changing at every turn?
It is this challenge that we (and just about the entire world) faced as we went into planning our Netzer year in 2020, and again, in our 2021 Summer camp season. Week to week, we could not predict what our future would hold.
It was hard to fathom a camp without a campsite. Even as we were just days away from camp we were plagued by doubts: Will this feel familiar to returning chanichim? Is this a ‘real’ experience for first-time campers?
Health restrictions placed limits on what we saw as fundamental to our camp experience, such as: No sleeping away at a campsite; and o singing and chanting together.
Our movement however has always been at the forefront of change, responding to it and more importantly leading the charge. Even still, our doubts lingered all the way up until camps began.
As we soon learnt, the magic did not reside in the campsite, but rather in the energy of a hundred young Jews, engaging in learning and laughing. As soon as the buses arrived, full of kids from across Australia, it was evident that our worries were unfounded. With a little creativity, and a lot of trust from our community, we were able to transport the Synagogue campus into an alternate dimension.
Looking through our Netzer lens, one informed by a history of creative Jewish practice, the campus transformed. Hallways became classrooms or museums, classrooms became cabins, and our main hall became our chadar ochel (dining room). Every open space became a sanctuary (one of the rare spaces we were allowed group singing).
The creativity extended to our programming and services: Our Shacharit service became a service on the move, with smaller groups of participants being lead from room to room, from synagogue to park, as we prayed through song, dance and art, and finally coming back together for the Torah service.
Online engagement (something previously antithetical to the camp experience) became a staple of connection. We video-called with our friends across Australia and sometimes even in the next room to maintain our sense of community. Every year we say it, but this time we mean it: this camp truly was like no other. We were able to hold within this new space, everything good and meaningful from Netzer camps past.
This summer reminded us that the camp experience is more than creating an ephemeral moment of Jewish connection. We seek to build something longer lasting, embedding in our community a new way to the world. One in which every space can be one prayer, every meeting one of connection, and every moment one of learning. We were very lucky in our corner of the world to have been afforded this opportunity. We hope that everyone reading, wherever you are, can take a moment with us to look at the world the ‘Netzer way’.
We also wish to thank our communities and synagogues who trusted us and housed us, and without whom camp could not have been a possibility this year.