Madeline Bagdade is an Action and Advocacy Immersive participant from Mt. Zion Temple in St. Paul, MN.
For six years, I called a different camp my home. Starting when I was just 8 years old, I left my family for weeks at a time to involve myself in as much Jewish programming as I could. I grew up around my camp. I graduated elementary school and then middle school, and each year I would board the Greyhound bus that would take me to my favorite place on earth. The final year I attended that camp, I was old and mature enough to notice what I had overlooked and pushed away for six years: I was different than the other campers. I dutifully sang through the Birkat Hamazon six times a day instead of three to truly soak in the words, while my fellow campers grumbled and pulled each other into the bathrooms during services, I followed along with every word, singing loudly and feeling deeply while the others read their books, made their bracelets, and squeezed silly putty between their fingers.
Because of these differences, because my values and interests didn’t match with my fellow campers, I found that even after six years I had very few friends. The last year I attended camp was not the last year that it would be possible for me to be a camper, but if felt to me like the last year I could bear being in a place that I felt I didn’t belong, and that I felt put down for my differences. As much as it saddened me, I made the choice not to register for the 2018 summer.
This choice left me with a summer open, something I hadn’t experienced in years, and I needed to fill it. I knew immediately that I wanted to go to a camp. It was something just too special for me to lose, but I didn’t know which camp. Then, one day at a program at my temple, Mt. Zion Temple in St. Paul, MN, a man stood up in front of my youth group and said three things that changed my life:
- He was a staff member from the URJ Kutz Camp.
- Kutz is a leadership camp where you can grow to better yourself and your community, and
- You get to see a Broadway show.
I was sold! I begged my parents to let me go. At that point, I was on my Temple Youth Group board and an active member in my NFTY region, and a leadership camp sounded perfect! So, I worked with my parents, kept my grades up and my behavior in check and ended up at Kutz, a place that seems almost too good to be true.
At Kutz, I have found a totally different kind of community. I am surrounded by people who share my passion for Judaism and my values, and pray sincerely and sing loudly. Most importantly, I find myself surrounded by people who want to build themselves up so they can build their communities, just like me! These people challenge me, asking me why I love what I love and why I choose the actions I choose, instead of just asking surface level what questions. These people goof off with jewish rock stars, and take their teachings to heart. They are just like me, and I truly feel like I belong. I am part of the participant body of URJ Kutz Camp 2018, and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.