by Rabbi Nathan Joiner
Every year, Jewish teens fly in from around the country to our serene camp location in the Northeast. In addition to lively daily services, lessons, and campfire discussions, we play sports, paintball, balance on high ropes courses, and careen through the air on zip lines. But it’s not all crazy activities; we also host drama competitions, improv workshops, and a talent show. To top it all off, we set out on a 2-night hiking or canoe trip to experience community and G-d in the wilderness.
What makes Camp Or L’Dor so unique in our Messianic Jewish world is that we are hosted by a local interdenominational Jewish camp, allowing us to experience Jewish rhythms and life alongside the wider Jewish community.
Camp Or L’Dor was co-founded and directed by Rabbi Nathan Joiner (one of our MJRC Rabbis) and Or L’Dor bases its Jewish practice and standards on the work of the MJRC.
One Shabbat afternoon after services, Sid Cohen and I were schmoozing in the synagogue lobby. We discovered that we shared a vision for a Messianic Jewish youth camp, and we wanted to find a way to reach our young people.
We thought — let’s take them outdoors.
So, in 2009 we recruited nine teens and a few counselors from local Messianic Jewish congregations in New England. Hosted by a retreat center in New Hampshire, we ran a four day youth retreat and embarked on an adventurous overnight hike in the White Mountains. It was small, but a grand slam for those who attended.
And that was how Camp Or L’Dor was birthed.
From that point on, we caught the vision. The next year we captured it in our new name:
“Camp Or L’Dor: Bringing light to the next generation.”
The impact of camp on those nine teens in 2009 was so great that by the next summer the size of camp tripled to 28 teens coming from all around the country. Throughout the week the teens engaged in a wide variety of activities, from high ropes, swimming, and paintball to overnight backpacking in the Catskill mountains. All this was grounded in daily Messianic Jewish prayer, teaching, and mentoring.
Finding a home
The most pivotal change in 2010 was not the increase in teens and staff nor the activities. Camp Or L’Dor requires an existing camp location to host our camp. We wanted a kosher kitchen, a venue where we could naturally enter into the rhythms of Shabbat and Jewish living, and to interact with the wider Jewish community. We thought — why shouldn’t we be at a Jewish camp? For us this was a no brainer. But being Messianic Jewish we didn’t know how we would be received.
So, we took the risk and reached out to a Jewish youth camp. Developing a relationship with our host camp was a wonderful time, with our Jewish host camp learning who we were and as they did, any initial reservations were quickly put to rest. As our time with them grew from apprehension, to curiosity, to complete enjoyment and interaction, meaningful relationships and lasting memories formed over five very successful summers together.
A time to move on
G-d has been doing some really amazing things with Camp Or L’Dor. At the end of this past summer, it was clear that we were reaching a turning point. We have a strong and committed leadership team with some superstar new additions, lots of experience, and a vision for Camp Or L’Dor needing a place to grow.
Amazingly, another Jewish camp has opened its doors to Camp Or L’Dor. Beginning in the summer of 2015, camp will re-locate to a new Jewish camp in the Northeast which will offer expanded opportunities for Camp Or L’Dor. We will move from our previous home leaving a legacy of impact, good will, and some very deep friendships. And as they have said, they and we are hopeful for opportunities to continue to interact even after our move.
We hope that our new location has the potential to bring even more blessings to our camp as we pursue our call to raise up the next generation of passionate, committed Messianic Jews.
We couldn’t be more excited to see what G-d has for us this summer and beyond!
That’s our story. The recipe? Vision, passion and a bit of risk. But most importantly a sense of G-d’s greater purposes and calling to do our part to build a Messianic Jewish movement for tomorrow.