Written by Shea Soll, URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy parent, New Orleans, LA
What makes a Jewish summer camp? Is it the location and facilities? Is it the staff and campers? Is it the activities and programming? Is it great camper recruitment with city-to-city introductory meetings and an effective website? Or is it the summer weeks of living Jewishly each day? While all are vital ingredients, the mere existence and presence of them in one place is not a certainty that the Jewish summer camp experience will actually meet the expectations of stakeholders.
For most prospective campers the creation of 6 Points Creative Arts Academy (CAA) was probably a place to focus on a passion for the arts. For others, maybe the Philadelphia suburban location was a desirable location at the beautiful and expansive Westtown School. Or, perhaps other prior camp experiences weren’t bringing the overwhelming joy that a family anticipates when sending their child to camp for multiple weeks.
Last fall, we heard about the opening of 6 Points CAA. We explored the website and had a Zoom call with Jo-Ellen and Kara. Our daughter Maya, who has been dancing for more years than I can remember, expressed interest in attending despite having attended another URJ camp the prior seven summers along with her two sisters. After less deliberation than I would have imagined, she decided she wanted to attend CAA, so we registered her for the second and third sessions.
Anticipation built for months until the first day of her CAA camp experience was upon us. We dropped her off at camp, helped her get situated in her dorm room, and went on our way with emotions of excitement for the potential of a great experience. Additionally, we felt predictable parental concern at leaving our daughter at a brand-new camp with not a single person she knows. We kept informed via traditional snail mail, virtual e-letters, and viewing all of the photos that camp posted each day on on Facebook and the website. Camp leadership provided exceptional support and assistance to work through some unanticipated challenges as well. They were fantastic and worked with our family in a manner truly in our daughter’s best interest.
Fast forward 3 1/2 weeks – I was fortunate enough to attend the third session showcase. From a tasting of foods prepared by the culinary arts majors, to the visual arts gallery and finally the choral, theatrical and dance performances, it was a night like no other I had ever experienced. The campers had just 12 days to work on their crafts, grow their skills and create the pieces of art they would present for showcase. The quantity and quality of art produced in such a short time period is truly amazing, and while they were also participating in non-arts activities and programming. As impressive as I found the individual efforts comprising the showcase and the pride oozing from each artist, I was not yet convinced that 6 Points CAA had truly succeeded in creating a Jewish summer camp.
During each aspect of the showcase, there was an overwhelming aura of support and joy for each and every camper from each and every camper. The support for one another transcended each camper’s age and was also obvious between campers and staff. These feelings and emotions carried into Havdalah and infiltrated my senses to the point that I was sitting there, overwhelmed with goose bumps and full of awe. I called my wife to share my experience, and tried to convey how incredible it was, but no words could do it justice.
After Havdalah ended I said the following to Jo-Ellen and Kara:
“What you all created here is amazing. Jewish summer camp does not exist on a great website or just because it has expansive facilities in a beautiful location, a good staff and hundreds of campers. You have succeeded in creating an amazing Jewish summer camp with individuals who came together with shared aspirations, created a true Jewish community and who departed with lasting friendships and bonds. Simply amazing!”