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Finding God Through Sports

Rosanne M. Selfon: Chair, Camp Harlam Council.  From the Women of Reform Judaism Blog

As we all know (I hope!), our thirteen Reform camps offer the most inspiring Judaism our children can experience. More than 10,000 youngsters had a taste of a Reform Jewish summer in 2011, and this year’s registration numbers are even better.

I have the pleasure of serving as the Chair of the URJ Camp Harlam Council. Harlam is our camp located in the Pocono Mountains, northeast of Philadelphia. We serve nearly 1,000 campers and 225 staff each summer. Additionally, I am honored to be a Vice-Chair of the NAC, our Reform North American camping organization that has oversight for the camps. As an engaged participant in NAC events and meetings, I appreciate the benefit of ‘seeing the big picture’.

A few days ago, Director of Camps and Israel Programs Paul Reichenbach shared a Confirmation essay with the NAC community. Its author, Maura Grindle from Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold, Maryland attended our three-year old North American sports camp called 6 Points (www.6pointsacademy.org ). Kids from around the world have come to 6 Points. Its success is unparalleled. Sports experts offer clinics and training expertise in a variety of sports. But 6 Points is far more than just a sports camp. It teaches Jewish values and pride, albeit within the sports setting.

As you read Maura’s essay, think of your own children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and all the kids in your Religious Schools. Have they had this experience? How would they relate their Jewish lives to daily experiences? Would playing Lacrosse or basketball connect them with God? When our kids play Little League at home, do they learn that compassion and humility are as important as courage and determination?

On behalf of the thousands of families whose children attend our camps, thank you, WRJ and nearly 500 sisterhoods, for being a partner with our camps. Thousands of young Reform Jews have enjoyed remarkable summer experiences because you, the women, have offered scholarships and grants. You have replaced beds and provided Torahs, created Torah covers and covered chapels with roofs.

And, thank you Maura, for so eloquently telling nearly 60,000 women that our efforts along with our camps have engaged your relationship with God. Enjoy reading Maura’s magnificent Confirmation essay.

Confirmation Essay of Maura Grindle

Determination. Honor. Humility. Compassion. Courage. Community. These are the six traits of 6 Points Sports Academy that I have come to know. 6 Points is a co-educational over night camp sponsored by the Union of Reform Judaism located in Greensboro, North Carolina. 6-points has become my new summer home and it is there, at camp that I have felt the closest to God. To paraphrase the goals of the camp, my Jewish identity and connection have been strengthened, while I have gained Jewish knowledge and values through sports. At summer camp, I have made new friends and discovered my true self. I had the fortune and personal experience of attending this camp during its opening year in 2010.

The six traits of camp are what brings me close to God.

Point 1 – Determination. Determination comes from within. During my summers at this camp, I am determined to be the best and if not the best, at least improve not only spiritually but also physically. Camp has taught me that even if you work hard and your work goes unnoticed, every little action has a resulting factor. My core sport was basketball and during my first year at camp, I was the only girl on an all guys team. Even though I was the only girl, I was determined to prove to the guys I could still play and keep up with them at their level. As Coach Herz was fond of saying that first summer, “the dictionary is the only place where success comes before work” or in other words, determination.

Point 2 – Honor. The Torah commands us to honor your mother and father. I learned a lot over the course of two weeks at camp. I especially learned a lot about my counselors who became my mothers and fathers and about my coaches who became my mentors. I learned to not disrespect them and listen to their wise words of wisdom. I honored my other campers by respecting their opinions and beliefs, which helped me grow as a person and an individual spiritually.

Point 3 – Humility. Humility was a very difficult concept for me to understand. During my first summer at 6-Points, everyone would come up to me saying, “Wow I can’t believe you’re the only girl on your team, you must be terrified”. It’d make me smile and I would reply with, “Yes I am the only girl on the team but I’m not terrified”. People would look at me and say you must be really good. Again, I would smile and just nod my head and say ‘thank you’. I guess letting my actions speak for me instead of boasting about what I could do defines humility.

Point 4 – Compassion. Compassion comes from the heart. Over the years I have grown particularly close to this one little girl at camp, her name is Sam. She taught me many things the very first year that we met. One in particular was that it doesn’t matter the size of the person but rather the size of their heart. She taught me to love and to care for others more than myself, despite what they look like or who they are.

Point 5 – Courage. Courage isn’t something that you stumble upon. During my first year at camp, I was chosen as the team captain of the Blue Cow Boys for color war, camps Maccabiah Games. At that time of my life, I was not good under pressure or being in the spotlight, but I had an entire team depending on me. I was not about to let down the entire team. It helped me build tremendous leadership skills that helped improve me spirituality.

Point 6 – Community. Community is caring and helping those that you share a special bond with. The community of 6-points has become that special place for me and I couldn’t have asked for a more loving and supportive group of people. They opened their arms and their hearts to me and I will be forever in debt to them. I made new friends that I will never forget and created memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

After hearing this, you may be wondering just how all this ties into feeling close to God. If it had not been for God then I never would have had the courage to lead my team to victory and the determination to become a better player. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if it’s not always crystal clear, God is always there guiding us along and helping us through difficult times and with tough decisions. As the song says “Hashem is truly everywhere.” God made me realize where I truly belong. That place is my summer home at 6-Points. Whenever I’m there I feel stronger and that there is someone by my side guiding me along. I feel closer to my Jewish culture and heritage, but more importantly, I feel close to God when I’m at 6-points Sports Academy.

To add your support to WRJ’s partnership with the Reform Movement camps, please donate to our YES Fund (Youth, Education, and Special Projects).

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