When news broke that the Union for Reform Judaism made the most difficult, scientifically-based, values-based decision not to hold in-person camp this summer, my heart broke.
Yes, I was proud that like leaders should, URJ and camp leadership consulted widely with medical, government, and Jewish leaders, weighed the changing data and options, waited until a decision needed to be made, and then planned a compassionate roll-out to honor the soon-to-be broken hearts of the campers, staff, and their parents. This incredibly difficult decision was an act of love.
Yes, I was proud that the ReformJudaism.org website offers age-differentiated advice to help parents talk to their children and that we can use as we provide pastoral care for them too.
But I love camp. It helped form me. Camp Newman is my home away from home, where I rejuvenate every summer.
Then, as our HUC-JIR pastoral counseling faculty taught me in rabbinic school, I looked around to figure out who else—camp professionals; URJ leadership; our rabbinic, cantorial, and educator colleagues; Jewish leaders, camp friends; and friends whose children were so looking forward to camp this summer—might be suffering, perhaps silently—and may be in need of pastoral care.
To my rabbinic colleagues and Jewish leaders everywhere, before sharing what I wrote, I ask: Would you join me to reach out and offer rachmanut (loving support) to our camp professionals, our URJ leadership, and of course to our camper and camp staff as they suffer through this heartbreak?
Here is what I wrote:
Dear Camp Professionals and URJ Professionals
by Rabbi Paul Kipnes
Repeat after me:
I am compassionate.
(I am compassionate.)
(I care about them so much.) So I am saving lives.
(So I am saving lives.) I am heartbroken.
(I am heartbroken.) I can share my sadness.
(I can share my sadness.) So I can hold their sadness too.
(So I can hold their sadness too.) I am a role model.
(I am a role model.)
And I influence others.
(And I influence others.)
So I am teaching us all responsibility.
(So I am teaching us all responsibility.)
I am being strategic.
(I am being strategic.)
I am planning for the future.
(I am planning for the future.)
So I’m stepping back so we all can move forward.
(So I’m stepping back so we all can move forward.)
Because I am compassionate.
(Yes, I am compassionate.)
And I am heartbroken.
(And I am heartbroken.)
But I am responsible.
(But I am responsible.)
So I am saving lives.
(So I am saving lives.)
Finally, to our Camp Professionals and URJ Leadership:
We too are heartbroken. But we are thankful for everything you considered and did to try to avoid this day.
Forgive us if we act out. We, too, are in pain.
But never forget that we appreciate that you were thinking about us and our safety when you and our camping world made one of the hardest decisions your career and all our lives.
Thank you for doing what you did every summer previously: making hard decisions to keep us all safe. You make us proud. And we love you.
Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes is the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California. Recently, he wrote about conducting a funeral in the time of COVID-19.