Kingswood Was The Light I Never Knew I Needed
I grew up in a ‘Jewish bubble.’ My neighborhood had more menorahs in the windows than Christmas lights. In my Jewish home, led by two Jewish parents, we had Shabbat dinner every Friday and went to synagogue and the JCC regularly. I went to Jewish nursery, elementary, and high school. Now that you know all of this, it may seem like a no-brainer that I ended up working for a Jewish camp, but the reality is not a single one of those formative experiences held a candle to my time at Camp Kingswood in shaping who I am today and the importance of being Jewish in my life.
At Camp Kingswood, I encountered a Jewish community unlike any I had ever been a part of. In Montreal, practically everyone I knew was Jewish in a similar way to me. At camp, I met people who didn’t live in my bubble, and who didn’t even know what a Jewish bubble was. My camp friends mostly all grew up Jewish, but for the first time I was exposed to different practices and traditions, and for some of my friends, camp was the only place where they made other Jewish friends. I had grown up surrounded by vibrant Jewish life, but they didn’t. Camp was one the only places where they actually felt Jewish. My Jewish life and knowledge was something I had always taken for granted, but at Kingswood, I discovered that I actually wanted to be a part of a Jewish community, and that being Jewish was something a lot of Jewish people didn’t know that much about, and that being Jewish was something to be proud of. That summer, I learned that I could talk about Jewish values and care about Tikkun Olam because I wanted to, not just because that’s what school made you do. Kingswood made it cool to be Jewish and I took that feeling home with me.
Little did I know how deeply that summer would change the course of my life and light the way for me to end up right back home where it all began. I chose to join BBYO because I wanted to keep that flame burning and I wanted to learn how to lead others through their Jewish journeys. I started working at my synagogue so I could help the little kids feel that feeling of loving being Jewish. I moved to Israel, I studied Jewish history, and I received my Master in Jewish Education. I’ve dedicated my career to being on a Jewish-identity-building mission, deepening the connection to my own traditions, making meaning of my Jewish life, and finding ways to pass it on.
Camp Kingswood lit this flame in me that is my passion and my life’s work. Like the story of Chanukah, that flame in me continued to burn long after that summer ended, and still burns to this day. As Coldplay famously says in a favorite Kingswood campfire song, ‘Fix You,’ the ‘lights will guide you home,’ and I couldn’t be happier that this year, the light guided me back home to Kingswood.
By Joelle Kelenson, Associate Director, alum 2003-2007, 2023-Present.