By Rabbi Mark Kaiserman
Judaism has always stressed a search for knowledge.
Sci-Tech is that search lived out by a crowd of inquisitive, intelligent, and extraordinary campers. Some wonder what is so Jewish about a camp at which kids study astronomy and 3D animation. I am lucky enough to be one of the visiting faculty that comes to camp and experiences the blend of Judaism and Science.
Each week, 2 or 3 rabbis, cantors, or educators become part of the camp community. This is standard for URJ camps. Rabbis playing capture the flag or gaga with kids creates a special bond between clergy and kids. At many URJ camps, the faculty help with b’nai mitzvah tutoring, Shabbat prep, teach classes, offer a d’var Torah, and tell stories. That all happens here at Sci-Tech – often using science and technology to explain or enhance our Torah words.
At Sci-Tech, we also get an exciting chance to bring a Jewish perspective to the workshops and activities. Students spend much of their session focused on a single scientific or technological subject. Robotics and Forensics aren’t obviously Jewish. So the instructors, counselors, and the faculty add in Jewish perspectives or connections throughout the weeks to the ongoing focus of our campers..
This morning, I talked with the campers studying computer programming and codes. It is a subject I know almost nothing about. Instead I taught them about Gematria, the Hebrew numbers codes. It is why we associate Chai with the number 18. As the campers explore how to write a computer code, they learn about Jewish codes across the centuries.
In Video Game Design, students might learn about PARDES – the multi-leveled system to student Jewish text and how they are creating their own video text that has a richness to it. In Robotics, they learned about the Golem, the Jewish mythic monster of Prague that was essentially a Jewish robot. In BioZone, the students receive white lab coats at the beginning of their 2-week study of medicine at camp. The coats, they are taught, resonate with receiving a tallit at their bar/bat mitzvah – a special garment to transform the moment and to identify them in a new way – as medical students or as a young adults.
Sci-Tech celebrates 5 core values: kavod (respect), kesher (connection), sakranut (curiosity), taglit (discovery), and savlanut (patience). They discover these are science and technological values and Jewish values all in one.
Throughout the day and especially in the intensive workshops, the faculty help uncover the richness of connections between Judaism and their scientific focus. This will carry with the campers as they continue to master incredible technological subjects, they will link their learning with their Judaism and their faith. Their passion, their learning, and their faith are all joined together at Sci-Tech. May they find that throughout their lives.