My name is Chris Luber, this is my first session here at Camp Harlam, and I am a cabin counselor for Galil Boys 3. I am 20 years old and am a student at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, studying Religious Studies. You might notice that my name doesn’t sound very Jewish and that’s because I’m recently converted.
Before I explain how Camp Harlam has influenced me, I’ll get into some background about myself. My conversion process took about two years in total, during which my academic advisor at Randolph-Macon, my fellow Jewish students, my Rabbi, and my best friend encouraged me to become Vice President of Randolph-Macon’s Hillel and pursue my studies in Hebrew, Torah, Israeli History, Modern Judaism and Jewish Movements, and Feminism in Judaism. After I felt comfortable in a synagogue, hearing and chanting Hebrew, and experiencing the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and even Renewal movements to some extent, I began my conversion process and was offered an internship at Congregation Or Atid in Richmond, Virginia. However, it was only after being elected to my Hillel board and finding solace and a home with my Jewish friends did I finally decide to convert.
“But wait, why did you convert?”
This is the question most people have asked me upon hearing about my conversion. This was the first question asked of me by my Beit Din, and while I could write an entire long-winded, separate post on why I felt the need to convert, I can answer this question in two simple words: The People. My closest friends are Jewish, and their families are models of how I want mine to be when I have one of my own. The community that I have met has had a powerful impact on my introspective perception as well as my ideas of what it means to be both a Jew and a part of something bigger. I didn’t know what it felt like to be Jewish until I became a part of the Camp Harlam family. We are people that celebrate being Jewish, and I am silenced by how ecstatic I am to finally be able to celebrate with you.
“What were you before you converted?”
Before I converted, I identified with no religion or faith. I was raised without religion in order to find my own, and Judaism made me feel like I was coming home, just like Camp Harlam has. Then, having identified as an Atheist, there’s the question of G-d. As a convert, whose charge it is to undertake the covenant with G-d as with all Jews, my idea of G-d is atypical, but I find that it fits modern Reform Judaism and conforms to the idea of an all-inclusive feeling here at camp. G-d is everything. G-d is the Creator, Destroyer, the thoughts we think, the land on which we walk, the air that we breathe, and we are all a part of G-d. To me, religion is the most personal aspect of life, whether we identify with an organized religion or have a personal faith or lack thereof, that fact shapes and influences who each of us are.
“Then what brought you to Camp Harlam?”
My best friend is our Communications Supervisor. He has not only been influential in my decision to convert, but he’s been a teacher and a role model in developing my Jewish identity. He brought up the idea of getting a job here at Camp Harlam one night, and since I have tried my hand at teaching Kindergarten students in my synagogue, I thought, “Why not? I need money and hanging out all Summer sounds fun!” What I didn’t know was that his suggestion to work at Camp Harlam would change my life.
“How have you liked Camp Harlam?”
The fact that this is my first summer here is always fun to explain. Telling others that not 7 hours before I showed up to camp I wasn’t Jewish shocks them and says that everything I know about being Jewish exists here at Camp Harlam. The fact that I’m a convert doesn’t change anything about my feelings about Camp Harlam or the way others view me here, either. I feel Jewish. The combination of these kids, my co-counselors, the songs, the prayers, playing, fighting, and being together in this place is magical to me. Chanting the Mourner’s Kaddish, singing the Birkat Hamazon, and Shabbat services feel different now that I’m Jewish, but they also carry heavy sentiment as I associate them with Camp Harlam and develop my Jewish identity alongside that association.
I’ve only begun my journey as a Jew, but starting my journey here at Camp Harlam is the perfect place to start for one reason:
I’m finally home.