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