By Kadie Black
As I made the turn onto the country road that leads to URJ’s Kutz Camp, I recalled the journey over twenty-five years ago when I showed up for my first summer at URJ’s Camp Coleman. Going to Camp Coleman, I was looking forward to a summer of canoeing and camp activities, and while I loved all those experiences, in the end I was given something even greater. Camp was my introduction to the larger Jewish community, and was integral in developing my Jewish identity.
Coming to Kutz, I was no longer an eight-year-old girl from Miami entering the mountains for the first time – I am now the Development Manager of Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ). Thanks to the generosity of sisterhoods and donors WRJ was recently able to commit $50,000 to help Kutz renovate their library as part of their Capital Campaign. I wanted to visit Kutz to see what the impact of our donor’s investment will be.
After arriving at Kutz, I joined the entire camp at their morning service. The chapel sits on a covered dock overlooking the lake, a serene and beautiful place. I immediately felt a sense of closeness to the Kutz community of youth and faculty. I noticed a group of girls making friendship bracelets and envisioned them 15 years later as adults still wearing their friendship proudly. I saw the inclusion, love, and felt a calm sense of comfort that URJ camps all over the country somehow duplicate this incredible experience from the moment you step foot on any of their camps. Once you arrive, there is a feeling of belonging no matter which camp you are at.
After services, I was given a tour of the camp. We walked past the art rooms and took a moment to engage with some of the young artists. One of the campers told me that hers was the only Jewish family in their town. The closest synagogue was over 30 minutes away. She grew up going to a Catholic summer camp because it was simply the most convenient for her family. She never thought she would continue practicing Judaism as an adult until her time at Kutz, where she gained a love and pride for her religion and made lifelong friends to celebrate simchas with. I couldn’t help but think of my own path, and how finding wonder and happiness while surrounded by people of a common faith and history can be so integral for so long.
We continued our tour and ended up in the WRJ Library, where the Torah Corps major was being led by a HUC-JIR rabbinical student. The focus ofTorah Corps this summer was on prayer and what prayer means to them. The library itself is an unassuming room, but you can feel the powerful learning that takes place inside its four walls. This was where I realized the true impact of a summer at Kutz. The teens went around the table and introduced themselves to me. They all had different reasons for choosing Kutz, but one young woman named Shira really blew me away. Shira explained that she decided to come to Kutz to deepen and expand her connection to Torah, but that before coming to Kutz, she did not want to be a Rabbi, because she identifies as female. She knew women were ordained as Rabbis, but she was lacking in female rabbis who served as role models for her growing up. However, through her Torah Corps major and interacting with the female clergy at Kutz, she had changed her views. She now feels that her beliefs about her gender and what it carries shouldn’t hamper her desire to live out her life doing what she is most passionate about, and thinks that she would like to be a rabbi when she grows up.
My day at Kutz was full of great moments. I overheard youth discussing the importance of Judaism taking an active role in advocating for race equality, women’s issues, and social justice issues. I also witnessed the inclusiveness of the Kutz’s Gibush (Teen Inclusion Program) at camp. This program offers an integrated Jewish summer-camping experience for teens diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
I walked away with a clearer understanding of how Kutz creates a safe place for youth to explore what Judaism means to them. I left the library that day feeling proud that WRJ is able to help rejuvenate a physical space for youth to continue to have these important discussions and navigate their spiritual growth. I felt a sense of pride to work for WRJ and being able to have a small part in supporting these important initiatives to help youth, like myself, grow up and want to continue to ensure future generations get to fall in love with Judaism at camp. As I pulled out of Kutz and headed home I couldn’t help but feel an excitement that my children one day will attend a URJ camp and possibly get the opportunity to sit in the WRJ Library and hone their leadership skills so they too can find their place as a leader in the Jewish world.
Kadie Black is the Development Manager for Women of Reform Judaism. Born and raised in Miami, where she started her career in foster care advocacy, Kadie moved to Long Island City in 2014 where she has become a volunteer community organizer.