Shabbat in Camp Judaea is one of the most special, sacred, and looked-forward-to activities among campers and staff members. It is a time for everyone in Camp to take a step back, relax, and reflect back on the week while looking ahead with fresh eyes to the coming days. From just before sunset on Friday evening to sundown (and 3 stars in the sky) on Saturday night, everyone is in Camp celebrating Shabbat as a family, and it is truly beautiful.
Since Shabbat is such a change from the normal CJ routine, we like to help our campers shift gears Friday afternoon so that everyone is excited by the time Kabbalat Shabbat begins. We do this by having Shabbatayadda— a camp-wide celebration during which campers can write Shabbat-o-grams to give to their friends and counselors, braid challah, practice Israeli rikkudim (dances), and more!
Then we begin our official Shabbat Prep. Campers clean their cabins and write letters home so that everything is finished before Shabbat starts. Everyone showers and dresses in their “Shabbat Best” in time to meet up with their Eda for Peulah Shabbat. This is the time for the campers and staff to take pictures and make sure all “business” is taken care of before Shabbat begins.
By now, everyone is ready to welcome Shabbat, so the entire camp fills the amphitheater overlooking the lake. Each week, a different Eda is assigned to lead Shabbat. Usually during the day, they have created artwork to decorate the amphitheater, chadar ochel, and Beit Knesset. They work with our Shira and Rikkud activity counselors to prepare songs and dances to perform. We sing the prayers together while overlooking the lake, listening to the sounds of nature and watching the week disappear behind the trees. When the service concludes, Tom Rosenberg, our executive director, addresses the camp and tells a story. The story usually revolves around the week’s Torah portion and its relevance to camp. The campers really like to hear and learn from Tom, so this is definitely a special moment for all.
We make our way over to the chadar ochel. Before we eat, we stand with our arms around each other and sing “Shalom Alechem” and then recite Kiddush. Dinner is served—challah, soup, chicken or brisket, potatoes, green beans, strawberry salad, and rugalach for dessert! When everyone is full, we sing the Birkat Hamazon, careful to include the Shabbat additions and changes, and then walk across the field to the Beit Ha’am for Oneg!
Everyone loves Oneg; it is an improv comedy show performed by a handful of counselors for the whole camp! They play games like “Freeze” and “Typewriter” and take volunteer participants from the audience—usually, the whole room is in stitches! By 9:15, the nurses and medical staff are ready to start administering nighttime medicines, and then bedtime for campers. They love getting back to the cabins after Oneg because their light switches are taped down. To observe Shabbat, we do not flick the lights on or off, instead, we turn on the bathroom lights before Shabbat begins and turn off the cabin lights. Not only does this observe Shabbat, it also encourages the campers to be in bed earlier since there is no light!
Saturday morning is the best—LATE WAKE-UP! We give the staff and campers time to catch up on their sleep, and we begin the day at 9:00am instead of 7:30am. We don’t raise the flag on Shabbat, so we head to the chadar ochel for snack. On Shabbat, it is customary to only eat three Shabbat meals. Since Shabbat begins Friday before dinner, that meal is included. For this reason, we refer to Saturday morning’s spread as “snack” instead of breakfast.
After breakfast, we hold Shabbat morning t’fillot (prayers) in the Beit Knesset. The eda assigned to lead Shabbat continues to lead, and even get to perform in the “Parsha Players” skit which depicts the week’s portion. It’s usually fairly silly and entertaining. Before concluding t’fillot, a staff member gives a D’var Torah, words of the Torah, to segue from Torah into Camp and relate the two back to each other. The whole camp then heads up to our outdoor picnic tables for Kiddush featuring grape juice, fruit, and baked goods.
Chofesh is next! This is a two hour period where campers are not allowed in their cabins, but are allowed to choose an activity in which to participate. Basketball, tennis, and swimming in the pool are popular choices. Some campers elect to lay out on towels in the grass to read, nap, or talk with friends. Staff members are stationed around camp to supervise and enforce safety rules and boundaries, but for the most part, everyone is having fun and relaxing.
By 1:30pm, we are ready for lunch. Traditionally, Shabbat lunch is an assortment of deli meats, sandwich fix-ins, and pre-made salads. When everyone has finished eating, the entire camp bursts into an epic shira (singing) session! Some songs are led by staff members, others by campers—many of them have hand motions and choreography! The chadar is filled with voices and energy. This is a favorite activity, especially among staff members.
After lunch, campers choose a counselor-led “optional mandatory.” The idea behind optional mandatories is that the campers have many options, but it is mandatory for them to attend one of the options. We have recently renamed these “Shabboptions!” Staff members plan lectures, meditations, games, or discussions. Sometimes they are related to camp, other times they may be related to history, pop culture, or miscellaneous topics that catch campers’ attention. After Shabboptions, campers have one more hour of chofesh (free time) before returning to their cabins for menucha (rest).
At this point, the campers have had a full day of praying, playing, and resting after an even fuller week of non-stop activity. To slow things down, each eda meets up for an activity called Sikkum haShavua. This is the time where the campers can share with their friends and staff members what they learned during the week, what they loved about the week, and even what part of the week they didn’t love so much. It is a sweet way to seal the previous week and leave it in the past so that everyone can move on to a fresh, new week. From Sikkum haShavua, everyone goes to dinner.
When dinner is finished, the camp splits by eda and meets up for an active and entertaining tochnit erev. By the time tochnit erev is over, the sun is setting. Everyone meets on the basketball courts and sits together to begin our shira shketa (quiet singing). Voices of our seven year olds blend with the voices of Bogies and voices of our staff members and senior staff members as we sing songs like “Uf Gozal” and “Eli Eli.” Three stars appear in the sky, and we know it is time to see off Shabbat and welcome a new week.
A giant circle forms around the basketball court as the leading staff members recite and sing the blessings of Havdallah. CJ has recently started a new tradition for the end of Havdallah; everyone must be absolutely silent when it comes time to extinguish the Havdallah candle in the Kiddush cup. If you can clearly hear the “sizzle” of the candle in the wine, the upcoming week will be a good one! Everyone wishes each other “shavua tov” meaning “have a good week!”
Music starts to blare, and the basketball courts erupt in camp-wide dancing! All of the dances taught during the Rikkud peulot are danced in unity: circle dances, line dances, even some “River Dance” dancing. Its our energetic way of welcoming the week and starting it off on a good foot! After an ample amount of stepping, turning, clapping, and jumping, it is time for nighttime medicine, showers, and bed. Shabbat is over and a new week begins.
In an age where technology comes first and people remember moments retrospectively through pictures rather than experiencing the moment in “the now,” it is difficult for us here in CJ to “show” you how we celebrate Shabbat since we are strictly Shomer Shabbat and do not use cameras to take pictures. This is one of the reasons why we stress the importance of togetherness and encourage everyone to participate in observing Shabbat— so that campers and staff members remember Shabbat and will know different ways to observe Shabbat even when not in Camp, if they so choose.
Shabbat Shalom, CJ family.