The request from Greg Kellner, Assistant Director of Eisner Camp, seemed simple enough: write a few paragraphs what it means to be a faculty member at Eisner. As I sat down, the task seemed more challenging than I imagined. How do I summarize the motivation that keeps bringing me back here for the past 21 summers as a faculty member? Is it the promise of grilled cheese and tomato soup? Or is the lure of donning a cowboy hat and overalls for Rib Night? No, while those are highlights of my summer, the truth is that I come here for 2 reasons: one requires me to give and one requires me to receive.
The ability to give is not that much of a challenge. After all, Eisner is the place where I fell in love with Judaism. I came here as a kid and now years later, I get to teach kids the secrets and the majesty of Jewish life. The secret for me is found in a teaching in Pirke Avot which states: find yourself a rabbi and acquire yourself a friend. Those words are forefront in my mind as I drive into camp to start my tenure as a faculty member. What is it that I want to accomplish? Pirke Avot said it one way— that is what I want to be: a rabbi who teaches texts, a friend who guides a camper to a greater connection to his/her faith.
Let me be truthful. It would be disingenuous for me to say that is the only reason I keep coming back to camp. I come to get my professional batteries recharged and get a level of so-called professional therapy that I cannot get anywhere else. Sitting under a tree, I get to be the rabbi I always wanted to be. I get to teach. The kids are more or less enthusiastic. As much as I teach them, I learn from them. Jewish learning at Eisner is a journey that faculty and campers take together. As a result, the rewards are sweeter than any anything I encountered in the synagogue setting.
However, the best part of being in camp is being with my kids. Not only my three kids, for whom I relish the thought of sharing some of the magic I experienced here. But I get to spend time with children from my congregation, sharing an experience with them that is more meaningful and enduring than any I can inspire from the pulpit.
So to answer Greg’s question, what does it mean to be a faculty member? It means that I get to shape Jewish souls, one camper at a time!
Rabbi Matt Cutler is the rabbi of Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, NY. JewishBoston.com readers may remember him from his days at Temple Shalom of Newton and the Rashi School.