Student Corner: Finding My Jewish Community

by Ryan Schmeltz. Ryan is a junior at Frankel Jewish Academy.

(Originally appeared on The Detroit Jewish News as “Student Corner: Finding My Jewish Community”)

Ryan Schmeltz

It always fascinated me how each of my friends practiced Judaism in different ways and how geography played a role in their Judaism.

Beginning in the summer after second grade, my parents sent me to Camp Ramah in Canada for two weeks. Both of my parents had Camp Ramah in their lives when they grew up, so they wanted it to be a part of mine as well. Throughout my time there, I met some of my best friends from all over North America and Israel. It always fascinated me how each of my friends practiced Judaism in different ways and how geography played a role in their Judaism.

In April of 2020, the thought of not going to camp for the first time in six years arose with the sudden appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic. Camp had always been a time for me to take my mind off school and have a change of scenery for the summer, which was much needed after long school years. COVID began to look like it was not leaving any time soon, and thus, the news came that camp was not going to happen. Of course, I was sad that I would not go to camp, but I was still able to FaceTime and play video games with my camp friends.

I thought the summer of 2020 was just a one-year thing and I would not return to see my camp friends in person until May 2021 came around, but the border between the United States and Canada was still shut down because of COVID. I began to worry that I would not be allowed to have my break from being stuck at home, and finally get back to something that I had done in the six years prior. When I heard the news that the border was not opening before camp was going to start, I felt defeated. It became apparent that I was going to be stuck at home for the second straight summer.

My mom pitched the idea of going to a different Ramah camp, but I was not buying it; the connection and community that I built with Camp Ramah in Canada was so strong that I felt that it could not be replicated anywhere else. I was proven wrong.

That summer of 2021, I went to Camp Ramah in the Poconos, not knowing anyone my age. After just three hours of being at this new place, I found myself talking to everyone like I had been friends with them for multiple years. This place very quickly became my third home.

For most people, COVID was isolating and a time of lonely feelings. Personally, it forced me to appreciate the blessing of going to a Jewish camp and realize the importance of having a Jewish community with which to connect.

The biggest lesson I learned throughout this journey is the bond that can be shared through Judaism. Although I go to a Jewish school and surround myself with Judaism in many aspects of my home life, the most impactful connection to Judaism, for me, is the Ramah community built through summer camp.

Without camp, I would never have thought that some of my closest friends would live a plane-ride away.