Sunday, December 28, 2014 Tevet 6, 5775

Batting for the Future

August 17, 2011
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If only finding the perfect connection were as easy as Ryan Howard makes it look when he puts bat to ball or when Cliff Lee lets loose a change-up into the glove of Carlos Ruiz.

The focus of this special issue of the Jewish Exponent is sports, but really it's about finding connections behind the plays: exploring the Jewish love affair with baseball, finding solidarity with fellow teen athletes at the JCC Maccabi Games and nurturing lifelong Jewish identity alongside the athletics at summer camp.

Finding meaningful bonds can be elusive. It's easy to be a baseball fan, especially in this season of the unstoppable Phillies, but it's something else to stand up and be counted at Thursday's Jewish Heritage Night.

It's easy to go out for the township soccer, basketball or swim team, but it's something else to fly cross-country -- and even across the Atlantic -- to find solidarity with your peers at the all-Jewish JCC Maccabi Games.

And yes, it's easy to send your children off to overnight camp, but it's something else to make the choice that Jewish camp is the place to be, the environment that serves up that rare mix of fun and spiritual nurturing.

The verdict's still out on whether all the resources and energy being devoted to bolstering the "Jewish" in overnight camping are worth it, but it's hard not to be optimistic.

As one prominent researcher and sociologist put it in this week's Exponent, in the last in our series, "Nature & Nurture": Camp is a way to "invest in Jews ahead of time" so we don't have to counteract the disengagement after it's set in.

We would venture to guess that many of the Jewish fans who were heading to Citizens Bank Park for Jewish Heritage Night this week or journeyed to our region to play in the Maccabi Games or cheer for their favorite athlete found at least some of their Jewish inspiration at a Jewish camp at some point in their lives. These summer camps have been around for decades, nourishing the Jewish spirit and guiding generations of Jews. But in these days of increasing assimilation, they serve an even greater purpose.

The challenge of course is to give more campers the opportunity to develop the tools and forge the friendships upon which to help build a strong Jewish tomorrow. We are blessed with many options for quality camping within driving distance. Many more abound in New England and elsewhere.

So as the Phillies Phanatic concludes his hora at Jewish Heritage Night, and as the teen athletes depart the playing fields enriched by the Maccabi experience, take a different kind of swing.

It's not too early to start thinking about camp for the kids for next summer. It could turn out to be one of the best investments in your -- and our -- Jewish future.

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