Volunteering is a Religious Experience

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by Mark Daniels, Eisner & Crane Lake Board Chair

I love Jewish camping and specifically Eisner and Crane Lake Camps, and I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to volunteer and help strengthen the camps and the Reform Movement through my position on the Eisner and Crane Lake Camp Board of Directors. Reform Jewish camping has been at the forefront of my volunteerism as my wife and I credit camp for positively and measurably enhancing our son’s Jewish identity, leading him to become a Jewish leader himself. Ryan serves as a Rabbi in the Chicago area. Volunteering has also impacted how my wife and I feel about being Jewish as our involvement with camps has strengthened our own Jewish identities.

The dictionary defines volunteerism extremely coldly – “the practice of using volunteer workers, especially in community service or educational organizations and programs.”  Personally, I would prefer to define the volunteers with whom I have the privilege of working at the URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps as “the lifeblood of the organization.”  Surely I do not want to diminish the value and expertise of our directors (all of whom I have the utmost respect and love for!), but it is absolutely amazing to act as both a sounding board and cheerleader for our paid professionals with such an amazing group of individuals. It is almost a religious experience to meet regularly with these fantastic individuals who often have either participated in camp themselves, or surely have their children either presently attending or working at camp, or (as in my case) are past campers and staff, to talk and teach about the Jewish future and creating that next generation of Jewish leaders.

I refer to working with these dedicated volunteers as being a religious experience. Judaism teaches us that tzedakah is one of our basic teachings.  Whether you give from your pocket, from your heart, or with your time, I believe you are fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah.  The URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps are spirited not only by a volunteer Board of Directors, but are supported by a cadre of rabbis, cantors, and educators who serve on faculty during the summer, giving of their time and expertise to assure that our children benefit from their vast array of knowledge. And, let us not forget  the tremendous spiritual and financial support from our ‘Friends of Camp’ – a truly amazing group of people who come to this association from many different paths – former campers (our alumni) themselves, former board members and others who simply recognize that camp provides an audacious way for Reform Jewish youth to develop into amazing young men and women who help to reinforce why we do our volunteer efforts.

Great amounts of gratitude go to our unsung heroes – our parent volunteers who serve as Camp Ambassadors in their home congregations as well as class parents to help bind the summer experience throughout the entire year for not only our campers, but for the parents as well.  We are blessed to have such a vast array of volunteers.

It would be very wrong of me not to also recognize the fact that our Board of Directors not only gives graciously of their time – quite often taking away from their personal family time to help insure that camp is doing what it needs to do– but they are also among our biggest financial contributors. All in all, they are an amazing group of people that I have the honor to lead. I am blessed to be able to consider many of them my friends, and even more blessed for many of them to consider me their friend. May the Eternal continue to shed God’s light on those who see fit to help others. Become a volunteer on behalf of our camps, your congregation, or the URJ, find your passion and give back. All I can tell you is the payback is tremendous: I consistently feel valued, appreciated and know that I am making a difference in the life of our people.

Mark Daniels has been involved with the Eisner and Crane Lake Board for some six or so years and has been the Chair of the Board since July of 2016. A former educator and businessman, he presently serves as a chaplain at a pediatric hospital near NYC. His endeavors are supported by his wife, Mindy, as well as his sons, daughters-in law and grandchildren.