Sunday, June 29, 2008

I'm sending my children to Jewish Hogwarts

[Haveil Havalim is here!]

Today I sent my 7-year old daughter to Hogwarts; my 9-year old son goes later this week. For the former, Hogwarts is a Jewish summer day camp in my in-laws’ community; for the latter, it’s Camp Mesorah in Guilford, New York.

One of the many fascinating Harry Potter themes in the early books is that of the outsider-child who suddenly discovers that he is not alone in his idiosyncrasy, but that there are, in fact, a world of others who resemble him, who do what he does, who know what he knows, and who also live a life that is out-of-step from the masses.

For better or for worse, I’ve never really felt out-of-step. I grew up in New York, went to a Hebrew Academy school and Camp Raleigh and then Camp Morasha, along the way finding many lifestyle-reinforcing peers whose homes, Jewish lives and interests resembled my own. Sure, plenty of local homes displayed December lights and Halloween décor, and of course there were questions of, “Why don’t we do that?” but it was never terribly intense; we had our own circle, and that more than sufficed. I was secure enough that I could ride the LIRR and subway with a gemara and not feel uncomfortable.

Fast-forward to an experience of mine on a YU Summer Kollel (now re-packaged as “Summer Torah Seminars”) in Charleston, South Carolina. A woman described how local Jewish boys had been goggling at some coveted new toy in a store, and one had remarked to another, “I hope my folks get that for me for Christmas,” because he was embarrassed to be heard mentioning Chanukah. (Today, Adam Sandler may have changed all that, but this was pre-Sandler.) I sympathized with the kids, but I couldn’t really understand what was going through those kids’ minds, not having grown up in that environment.

Today, I have a stronger sense of what those kids felt. Thank Gd, we have many young families here for a community of our size, but each of my older children has only 4 or 5 kids in class at school whose Jewish beliefs and practice match our own. I know that in some communities even that number would be significant, but to me it seems small, especially given that it’s only 25%-30% of the total class for each of them. They certainly feel more isolated than I did at their age.

So we’re sending them to Jewish Hogwarts for the summer, to camp experiences where my daughter will have 15 or so bunkmates who live as she does, and where my son will be immersed in a camp of 500+ kids who, by and large, practice as he does. For my daughter the experience will be less intense, as is appropriate for day camp. For my son it will be, I think, a real eye-opener. I’m very curious to see how he will evolve over the course of the summer, and what it might mean when he returns.

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  1. I hope it's a great experience for them both! And, yes, Hogwarts is a perfect analogy.

    Although I know you tout the diversity within Orthodoxy, I think your kids are still going to get a more consistent comparison to their fellow Orthodox peers than my son will, in a liberal denomination.

    I worry about how much of his Jewish identity will come from these peers, some of whom have practically non-observant families, instead of from his home life. But, since our synagogue/community is still the best fit for Bad Cohen and me, we'll stay here.

    The whole Jewish summer camp thing was new to me, when I started hearing about it a few years ago. Camps like these might be a good way to expose Baby Challal to the various movements and their ways of doing/being Jewish.

  2. ImaBima-
    Thanks, and thanks for the link!

    The diversity I tout in Orthodoxy is not really in the observance/belief system, it's in the personalities and the creativity with which they live their lives.

  3. Perfect analogy!! This is our 8 yo son's 4th summer at day camp and his FIRST at sleepaway camp. And it is our 5 yo daughter's first year at daycamp and she and the baby will be with me at faculty housing at sleepaway camp. I can't wait!!!