Opinion | Building and rebuilding community

Lisa Klig
Lisa Klig (Courtesy of Moishe House)

By Lisa Klig

Over the past year and a half, we have all had to dig deep within ourselves to find new ways to remain connected to loved ones and maintain our professional networks. We’ve been challenged with how to express our humanity when isolation seemed like our new way of life. As we emerge from the High Holidays and begin this new year, what has become clear is that we cannot lose our connections with the people and things that matter.

Throughout these difficult months, I’ve watched as everyone has done their best, in both their professional and personal spheres. At Moishe House, we shifted gears, getting extra creative, planning and executing online immersive experiences, even moving our summer camp for adults (Camp Nai Nai Nai) online. But as positive and meaningful as that was, though we may substitute in-person moments with Zoom, there is something to be said about the energy that flows through us as we share a collective experience at a particular moment in time.

The insight we’ve gained since March 2020 and the advent of vaccines allow us to make careful choices that open up the possibility of reconnecting with that energy and gathering once again. Even more than that, they have allowed us to rediscover how good it is when, as the song says, shevet achim gam yachad, when we sit together.

Just ahead of Rosh Hashanah, some 100 young adults in their 20s and 30s shared that rediscovery at the first in-person Camp Nai Nai Nai since 2019, not far from Baltimore in Waynesboro, Pa. With the delta variant now circulating, we realized we had to create a bubble within the campgrounds. We limited participation to a third of what we would usually have and required proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test within 96 hours of arrival. Those who didn’t meet those requirements were not allowed on campgrounds. Not staff, not presenters, not vendors — no one.

The end result was a remarkable, joy-filled long weekend of inclusive programming building on the best memories of summer camp and spanning the range of Jewish expression and experience. Participants laughed themselves silly, sang songs they thought they’d forgotten, met new friends and caught up with old ones — and then they went home, as healthy as they’d been when they arrived.

[The Inner Child Runs Wild at Summer Camps for Jewish Adults]

It’s a bedrock of the Camp Nai Nai Nai experience that everyone — absolutely everyone — belongs. Our camp family includes Jews of color and LGBTQ Jews, Jews with disabilities, Jews who have never cracked a siddur and folks who are exploring Judaism for the first time. But a community that doesn’t value each other’s health and well-being isn’t worth the name. It’s no longer enough to depend on even our greatest past successes. We also have to look to the latest recommendations from the experts to make sure that everyone gets home safe.

As partial as I am to Moishe House and all the work we do, I know that the need met by Camp Nai Nai Nai is much broader than a single program. This longing for community exists in each of us, and after a year and a half of isolation, it’s incumbent upon us to take real, concrete steps to reach out and rebuild community, based in the science that allows us to do so safely.

When we care for each other, we build something much larger than the sum of its parts. With all that we’ve experienced over the past 19 months, after all that time of uncertainty, turmoil and fear, we all need to reconnect and rediscover that bigger, grander thing.

We always say that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world, a time of rebirth. I truly can’t think of a better way to mark the season than to renew our ties, and return to our most authentic selves and each other.

Moishe House is already planning to relaunch Camp Nai Nai Nai in Spring 2022, not only on the East Coast, but back on the West Coast, too, and, for the first time, in the Midwest. As always, we’ll double check with the experts to ensure we’re taking all necessary precautions, but after our recent success, I have no doubt we’ll be able to do so.

I’m excited for our expansion, and I know each of those camp cohorts will have a wonderful, joyous time together. But I know there are a million other creative ways to reconnect. I encourage you to join us on this quest to safely rediscover the wonder of having fun, together.

Lisa Klig is the director of Camp Nai Nai Nai, Moishe House’s summer camp for Jewish adults.

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