By Jo-Ellen Unger, Camp Director

What’s your dream job?  How long have you had that particular dream?  If I could wish one thing for you, it would be to have the pure, unadulterated sense of joy that comes from having your dream come true.  Why do I wish that for you?  Because I know how it feels.  How did it happen?  There are three defining factors that shaped and guided my journey to this moment:

Judaism continuously plays a central role in my life – just not always in expected ways.  Growing up the daughter of a rabbi had certain expectations attached to it, some of which I fulfilled, others, not so much.  So much of my love of Judaism came from our music.  Be it pieces from Israel and her wars, the booming sounds of a Janowski melody on the organ, or the folk guitar of Kol B’Seder and Debbie Friedman, I embraced music in all settings – around campfires, in wooded chapels, great synagogue sanctuaries, youth group kallot, and in concert halls.  Prayer moves me, the keva (set order) providing comfort and familiarity, the kavannah (intention) providing opportunities for personal connection.  And now, being a parent, watching my children embrace their Judaism, has a power all its own.

Camp played an enormous role in my growth and development.  I know, I know, you’ve heard it before a million times and it sounds like a sales pitch, yet, as journalist Harsha Bhogle reminds us, “Clichés are clichés because they are true.”  Camp was a place that I learned to hurt and heal, to question and be questioned, to venture beyond my comfort zone and to support others in moving beyond theirs.  Being camp staff was my first real job, with real responsibility, and I am blessed to still be in touch with many of my former campers and colleagues.

Parallel to all of this is my love of The Arts.  While my first passion was music, I was also fortunate enough to have amazing teachers in Shakespeare, O’Neill and Shepard, in musical theatre and dance and have a love of, and appreciation for all forms of visual arts as well.  I bake.  I don’t cook.  But that’s a story for another time.  Performing the music that grounded me in my Judaism so deeply is always an honor, and I look forward to each opportunity.

So, when news broke that the URJ was partnering with the Foundation for Jewish Camp on launching a new summer program dedicated to the creative arts, there was a surge of energy that flowed through me.  It was tangible to everyone around me.  Could it be reality – the opportunity, privilege and responsibility of combining Judaism, camp and The Arts into one holistic forum?  Sinatra sang, “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you if you’re young at heart.”  This is no fairy tale, but it is a dream come true.  Through our core values of creativity, curiosity, grit and craftsmanship, we look forward to helping our young artists develop their own dreams and see them realized as they grow with us.