Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, is a core Jewish value, one that encompasses so much of what synagogues, temples, and Jewish communal organizations and institutions do on a daily basis.
So when a synagogue forms a strong partnership with a local nonprofit involving campers and volunteer teen counselors, the impact can be powerful.
For the past eight years, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation has worked closely with Paul’s Place, an organization in Southwest Baltimore that helps low-income communities in the area. Throughout the year, the organization serves as a comprehensive resource for low-income families, providing them with more than 30 services of support such as food, clothing, and residential and vocational training.
For the second consecutive year, BHC has been on the roster of locations for Paul’s Place Camp for one-week summer camp programs for children in first through fifth grades. The camp was held at BHC from July 17-21.
Brad Cohen, BHC’s director of education, says that he and other synagogue staff members and congregants have been volunteering at Paul’s Place throughout the year. When learning that Paul’s Place Camp works with various community organizations to provide one-week summer camp experiences at different locations throughout the area, Cohen says he knew that BHC should get involved.
For a week in the summer, the campers take buses to BHC, and the congregation’s staff and volunteers run a day camp for them. The camp is free of charge, and all of the BHC counselors are volunteers. (Paul’s Place pays their staff.)
Having 40 children spend a week at BHC was an eye-opening experience, says Lauren Offermann, BHC’s assistant director of education. While Paul’s Place Camp works with other nonprofits over the summer, BHC was the only synagogue on the roster.
Most of the campers enjoyed lunches with the synagogue’s clergy and learned what rabbis and cantors do in their pastoral work.
“The kids were so excited and fascinated to learn about other religions,” says Offermann. “They had a wonderful opportunity to learn about other people in the world.”
Throughout the week, campers participated in a wide range of activities, including art projects, robotics, science projects, improv games and a water slide. The Sylvan Learning Center and Astro Jump donated their services and resources to the camp experience.
In addition, two congregants and parents of teen volunteers ran the science projects. For the improv games, an adult congregant served as the leader.
Offermann says this summer, BHC decided to enhance the camp’s lunch program. Instead of receiving donations from the Maryland Food Bank, BHC recruited volunteer congregants to prepare and serve meals for 70 Paul’s Place campers and staff members, as well as for BHC teen volunteers. That included a taco bar, lasagna, baked chicken, pizza, pancakes and more.
“Everyone ate well and laughed a lot,” says John Walsh, a chef with Classic Catering, which is owned by BHC congregant Larry Frank. “There was a positive vibe going on in the room. It was well-done and well-organized.”
Amanda Bingaman, a BHC congregant and student volunteer who attends Elon University, says that the camp “showed me the difference in culture and atmosphere that the children from that community in Baltimore experienced versus my own.”
She says she is now pursuing more experiences in a variety of cultural settings. “I loved this experience and will hopefully do it again in future summers,” says Bingaman.
Madeline Roberge, a BHC congregant and teen volunteer, says she could tell that the campers were having a great time and were excited to come to camp every day. She says she enjoyed working with the youngsters and wants to return to the camp next year.
Hannah Heller is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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