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Havaya: Camp to Campus

This article was originally published on page 14 of the February 2019 issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News.

Teenage girl and younger brother smiling for portrait

Lillie and Brian Heyman, former Camp Havaya campers

When I first decided to attend Camp Havaya, the Reconstructionist movement’s summer camp in the Poconos, I was expecting just a fun summer away from my home in New Jersey. That was the summer before 7th grade, and now that I am in my sophomore year at the University of Michigan, I can see how camp changed my life.

Camp Havaya gave me an outlet to be unapologetically myself and be supportive of others doing the same. I was exposed to LGBTQ Jewish people, interfaith parents, and Jewish people of many different races and ethnicities. My Judaism was shaped to be a Judaism of intersectionality, inclusivity, and community.

These lessons of understanding, open-mindedness, and community armed me with the skills necessary for a successful college career full of dialogue and new experiences. Camp motivated me to learn about people with different backgrounds and step outside of my comfort zone. The Jewish value I hold most dearly, largely influenced by my time at Camp Havaya, is social justice. This value can be summed up by the Rabbi Hillel quote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”

Today I am pursuing a career in public policy at the University of Michigan, with which I hope to address systematic inequalities and advocate for marginalized groups and women’s rights. Many of my camp friends do Jewish and/or social justice work on their campuses as well.

I was a camper for 6 years, and a counselor for two. I came back to camp to work on staff to help campers have the same great experiences I had and to create long-lasting, meaningful relationships with one another. My purposes grew deeper when I returned again. I wanted to create a space for campers to feel included and give them a sense of belonging, no matter their identity, in a world that may make them feel otherwise. I wanted to give campers a place to be themselves, to be enthusiastically supported, and a place to be excited about their Judaism, especially if they are not around many Jewish people at home.

I was nervous when I first stepped onto campus at University of Michigan, but I knew I was prepared and armed with the skills to thrive, thanks to my time at Camp Havaya as a camper and a staff member. Camp Havaya gave me confidence in myself that I can make friends and be on my own for weeks at a time. So much of the college journey is finding yourself and what is important to you. At camp, I got a head start. I was taught to question norms and have meaningful conversations. I was encouraged to be introspective, develop my values, and start discovering the type of person I want to be and who I want to surround myself with.

After seeing how much I loved camp, my brother decided to attend. Eventually he would be staff at Camp Havaya, and a student at the University of Michigan as well. Camp Havaya gave my brother and me a place to be around campers of all different backgrounds and staff from all over the world. It enabled me to explore my Jewish identity and be excited to be Jewish. I will forever be grateful for the values camp instilled in me and the preparation it gave me for attending the University of Michigan and for my future.

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