B’nai Mitzvahs at Camp
Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a special moment in time. And what’s so amazing about it, is that each person’s path to this important day is different. At SLC we celebrate that our community is made up of people from different backgrounds, perspectives, and places. Just like the fact that no two people are the same, no two B’nai mitzvah celebrations are the same. The end result though is the same – a stronger community with more people standing up to say they want to take on more responsibility to make their communities a better place.
Surprise Lake Camp has been hosting Bar and Bat Mitzvahs during the summer for roughly 25 years. The tradition began when we realized how many of our families are not necessarily affiliated with a synagogue at home. Our Jewish Learning and Living team works with each camper (or staff member) to study their Torah portion and the accompanying blessings. Often the highlight of the service is when the Bar or Bat Mitzvah shares their Dvar Torah with the entire SLC community making connections between our sacred text and life at Camp today.
Zev Papernick, a six-year camper from the Boston, MA area, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Camp this summer. Zev is a fourth generation SLC camper. Zev made a connection, as part of his Dvar Torah, to how important it is for all of us to continue to care for the environment. At one point he turned to the lake, for many the heart and soul of SLC, and reminded all of us of our role in being stewards of the environment. Zev’s grandfather, Rabbi Larry Rubinstein, a current member of the SLC Board and past Board President, spoke to the entire camp about his family’s connection to SLC. Larry’s father (Zev’s great-grandfather), Dr. Ben Rubinstein, was a camper in 1922 and went on to join the Board of Directors. Larry shared his memories of the time when his father donated the Torah scroll to Camp – the same Torah that Zev had just read from. Larry also shared that his daughters Mara and Eve (Zev’s mom and also an SLC Board Member) and their families donated the Ark to Camp. All of the SLC family was struck by the powerful connections that Camp has helped foster.
Roni Lerner, a six year camper, and current Highlands Counselor celebrated her Bat Mitzvah at SLC in 2013, when she was a Highlands camper. Her counselors helped her study her Torah portion and made sure that she was ready to read in front of the entire Camp. The morning of her Bat Mitzvah, she was sick in the health center. Her counselors showed up, helped her read her portion one more time in preparation and she felt well enough to go to services. Roni says, “My day was special because I had hundreds of people supporting me in my favorite place. I felt so loved.”
Tyler Shatesky, a four year camper and seven year staff member, currently the Journey’s Way Supervisor, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Camp in 2008. He had it at Camp because he watched other older campers celebrating their B’nai Mitzvahs, and dreamed of having his here. The atmosphere was ideal, as he says, “I had the lake behind me and all of Camp in front of me.”
Alisa Machina was 19 when she was ready to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah service at Camp. Alisa was a camper for two years and then a member of the staff for five years. She was originally scheduled to have it during her first year as a camper, but when the time came for her to prepare, she realized that she was a little bit intimidated by standing up in front of all of Camp. She made it a personal goal to build up the gumption to have her Bat Mitzvah at Camp and speak in front of everyone at the Eddie Cantor Theater. She says, “It was special because I had so much support from my friends and other staff.”
Marissa Marx, an eight-year camper and year-round staff member celebrated her Bat Mitzvah at SLC in 2009. Marissa lives in Florida and expected her family to Skype in for her special day. Little did she know, 18 of her family members flew to New York and surprised her the morning of her Bat Mitzvah. Camp was in on the surprise, and she said, “I didn’t think the day could be more special, because I was already having it in my favorite place at the same time as two of my Camp friends. Then my family showed up, and I finally got to show them Camp for the first time.
Nachi Moskowitz is 13 years old, and this is his sixth summer at Surprise Lake. He celebrated his Bar Mitzvah last summer, during the last Shabbat of 2018, making it extra special and especially memorable. Nachi said, “I had my Bar Mitzvah here because all of my friends are at Camp. I look forward to the summer all year long and SLC is my home, so it only seemed right and I am so happy that I did.”
Ksenia Novikova celebrated her Bat Mitzvah at 14. She says, “I wanted to have it at SLC because Camp is where I started to find my Jewish identity through Shabbat services and our inclusive Jewish community.” Ksenia says that her day was special because she was surrounded by people that love and support her.
Zoe Kingston came to Camp from Liverpool, England in 2008. She returned from 2009 to 2012 and later returned in 2018, and she’s here this summer! She says “I wanted to have my Bat Mitzvah at Camp because I never had one when I was younger. Camp doesn’t try to make anyone more religious, however, it has a way of making you feel more Jewish. This made me want to celebrate here with all my friends around me! It was special because it was held at my favorite place around people who had a giant impact on my life. It connected me to the place I loved with the people I loved.”
Crystal Carroll had her Bat Mitzvah at the Eddie Cantor Theater in 2014. Her choice to have it at Camp was sparked by feelings of community, love and the values she had spent years growing with at Camp. Crystal says, “When I first came to Camp, everything Jewish was foreign to me – Hebrew as a language, praying and many of the rituals. Over my four years as a camper those traditions that once were foreign made me feel at home, welcomed and not only like I belonged but like I could add and flourish in the community and in the spirit.” Crystal converted to Judaism in 2014, and had her Bat Mitzvah here that summer. She says that she wanted to have it with her favorite view in the world. Not only with family, but with the community that brought me new light. She continued, “This was one of the first opportunities where my family got to see me embody this new part of my life and were introduced to me as an adult in a space I was becoming a leader and owning myself.”
Campers come to Surprise Lake from around the world, and from different backgrounds and upbringings. We love the opportunity we have each Shabbat at Camp to celebrate the strength of our community, how important it is to take on leadership, and how each one of us has the power to help make the world a better place.