After leaving Pittsburgh and “Camp Cook” early on Friday morning, my spirits were a bit dampened with FOMO and “Cook sickness”. I was hoping that being around a lot of people for Shabbos would help take my mind off of things, and I came away from Shabbos with much more than I even imagined.
Long story short- I ended up spending last Shabbos at Camp Nageela Midwest in middle of nowhere Marshall, Indiana. When I say middle of nowhere, I mean like 30 minutes from any kind of gas station or general store and there is virtually no cell service in the entire camp. But in this middle of nowhere camp grounds, there is a gem that was waiting for me to discover it. It’s a gem that is filled with ruach, love of Torah, and a genuine passion for summer camp. And that gem is called Camp Nageela.
From the moment I pulled through the camp gates, I felt like I was back in the Wisconsin lake country headed toward the place that I called my summer home for 12 years. Camp Nageela, is unlike any camp I have ever imagined or even thought existed. The staff and counselors are frum and the campers come from a variety of Jewish backgrounds. The immediate vibe I felt was that everyone belongs here. No matter your level of observance or your knowledge of Judaism, you have a place at Camp Nageela. And as a stranger to Nageela, I automatically felt like I was included in the community.
Just before Shabbos began, all of the girls gathered in the Rec Hall for some Pre-Shabbos Ruach. This included a slideshow of the past week’s activities, singing, and dancing. Everyone was coming together and you could feel the spirit of Shabbos coming alive at Camp Nageela. We then made our way down to the dining hall where a legit Shabbos meal was waiting for us. Everything is family style, which I found to be really nice. The night concluded with one of the most awesome renditions of the Birkas Hamazon that I’ve ever heard, and I was headed to bed on a metal bunk, where I had a sleep that I haven’t had since I was at camp (and it’s a really good sleep!). I woke up on Shabbos morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead. There was a nice, optional davening that I chose to attend, followed by a yummy seudah, including cholent! Since I was just a guest at Camp Nageela, I didn’t follow the camp program completely throughout the day, but I spent some time shmoozing with some campers and staff members. Don’t worry, I got my Shabbos nap, and I finished “The Fault in Our Stars” which is apparently a very popular read at camp right now as well. To age myself, the last book I remember being the craze at camp was the 7th Harry Potter book. So anyways…my favorite part of Shabbos was still to come. I attended a couple of question/answer sessions that ran throughout the day with different divisions. Then shortly after 3rd meal, all of the camp sat on benches in a circle in the dining hall and proceeded to sing some of the most beautiful camp, Jewish, Shabbos songs I’ve ever heard. My favorite song was “Is Anybody Happier?”, and between the words in the song and 100 special neshamas singing together, it could give anyone the goosebumps. Obviously just writing the words here can’t do it justice, but here is the chorus:
Did you make the day or lose it, was it well or sorely spent. Did you leave a trail of kindness, or a scar of discontent. And as you close your eyes in slumber, do you think Hashem will say, “You have earned one more tomorrow, by the things you’ve done today.”
The words were really powerful to me, and everyone was singing with such joy and passion. We then heard an inspiring story from one of the many great Rabbeim of the camp, and then headed back to the Rec Hall for a Havdallah that I will never forget. Picture this scene: about 100 girls huddled together, arms around each other, singing and reflecting on the week they just shared and will never forget. The camper of the week got to hold the Havdallah candle, and as nicely as Shabbos was brought in, it was also shown the way out. Then there was more singing and dancing. The Rec Hall looked just like the women’s side of a wedding! It was so fun!
I am so thankful that I was able to spend this wonderful Shabbos at Camp Nageela. Everyone I met helped me to get that boost of summer camp that I have been missing for the past few summers. I feel rejuvenated, and I now have a spark inside of me that wants to continue to be involved with this wonderful organization. Nageela’s mission of helping campers take away a sense of Jewish pride, is so clear to me, and I don’t know how any camper could leave Camp Nageela without being totally inspired by this warm, welcoming, and energetic community. I certainly hope this Shabbos wasn’t my last at Camp Nageela, but for now I’ll let the flame of the Havdallah candle linger a little longer in my memory…