By Maya Levy, NFTY Southwest President and NFTY President-Elect
A year ago, I had no intention of spending four weeks of my summer away from home. When I was younger, I attended overnight camp and absolutely HATED it, and after that experience, I was determined to never spend a summer away from Arizona again. But then, a little less than a year ago, I was elected to become the next president of NFTY Southwest, and everything changed. Hours after my installation, I was sitting next to my predecessor, looking through a binder that had been passed down to regional presidents since 2003, when I came across a letter that changed my life.
“Everyone is the most important person in the world to someone. Treat every person you meet as if they are to you,” said Melissa Frey, director of the Kutz Camp. This past month I attended Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens. The experience that I had there and the memories that were made will never be forgotten. I spent 26 days in a cabin with 17 other high school guys whom, prior to the first day, I had never met. That first night could not have been more uncomfortable…I was alone on that night and did not have someone to talk to. However, in 26 days, those 17 people went from being strangers to being some of the most important people in the world to me. There isn’t one person in that cabin who I wouldn’t be there for.”
Of course, I had heard about Kutz before, and had even toyed with the idea of going despite my vendetta against overnight camps, until I was offered a summer job. I had had my summer plans laid out for months before my election, but one paragraph into this random letter I knew they had to change. I had feared being alone like this person had been, having no one to talk to, feeling uncomfortable in a new place. But this person clearly got over it, and I figured that I would be able to as well. “In 26 days, those 17 people went from being strangers to being some of the most important people in camp to me.” I wanted to find connections like that, and all of a sudden, it seemed so possible.
“At the Kutz Camp we were given a lot of time to ourselves. This time may have been spent sitting in a pagoda by a beautiful lake and watching the geese chase each other around or sitting in the grass area by the cabin and watching people playing guitar or Frisbee or attempting to tan in the shade. At times I would reflect on the people who have inspired me: the people who inspired me to join NFTY, the people who inspired me to continue my Jewish education following my Bar Mitzvah, and most of all the people who have inspired me to become the person I am today. One day following dinner, I was sitting on a rock looking out at the lake and thinking about the friends I have made and the amazing people I have met at camp. There were only three days left and it hit me. In three days I would have to go back home and leave that place that, when I arrived, everyone greeted me by saying “Welcome Home.” That night I walked back to my cabin with a friend and began crying. I wasn’t ready to go home. I loved being able to sit for a while and think without any interruptions. At camp we had services every day. Everyday during the silent prayer of the Amidah I would walk up along with the rest of the camp to the edge of the Teatron, where services were held, and look out onto a beautiful lake. Those two minutes each day are the most important thing that I will take back from the Kutz experience. Having those two minutes each day taught me that no matter how busy your day is, you only need to take two minutes to yourself to reflect or think or breathe or do whatever it is you need to do for two quiet minutes.”
This camp he described was bliss, it seemed too good to be true and I knew I had to find out for myself. When I got to Kutz, I found that everything he described was true. Each day, I found moments of tranquility, connection, friendship, and reflection. In 26 days, the 12 girls in my cabin went from being strangers to being my best friends. The time spent in the Grove, hammocking in the sun, laughing with friends was euphoric. Being at Kutz was the happiest I have ever been, and I still think about the memories and friends I made there daily, missing it and counting down the days until I can return.
That magic that existed sixteen years ago has transcended the years and is still alive and well this summer. I can’t wait to spend another summer in the most beautiful place in the world, surrounded by inspiring leaders who will change the world – the next generation of Kutz participants. If you know an exceptional teen who would thrive in an immersive Jewish leadership experience, this is the summer to nominate them for Kutz. I hope to spend my summer with your most remarkable teen leaders!
URJ Kutz Camp brings together hundreds of the most passionate Reform Jewish teen leaders from around the world for a summer of leadership development, deep learning, and joyful Judaism. Join us this summer, June 23-July 21, 2019>