Blog  Reflections on the First Few Days of Urban Mitzvah Corps

Reflections on the First Few Days of Urban Mitzvah Corps

by Ari Beal, Participant

Day 1: First Day of the Program

As I drove through the gates at URJ Camp Harlam on opening day I always heard the words “welcome home” as a drove by. To me, that phrase meant the agonizing months of waiting for summer at camp were finally over. I would immediately exhale and relieve the butterflies in my stomach. I had this same experience every summer for the past five years.

I am not a camper at Harlam this summer, but I am a participant at Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC) in New Brunswick, New Jersey. UMC is a program which is specially designed to bring Jewish teens together from all over the country to learn and practice Jewish values like social justice and community service. I originally heard about the program from my brother, who participated on the program two years before and loved it. I was looking forward to exercising the core middot, values, that Harlam taught me throughout this new experience.

At UMC, I was greeted with the same open arms as at camp. The other participants and staff are very nice and knowledgeable- any of the initial worries that I had before the program are gone.

During my time as a participant on the program I will be serving as a counselor at the Play S.A.F.E. (Safe Activities for Everyone) Camp. This program is run by the city of New Brunswick, and provides families the opportunity to send their children to a place where they will receive two meals a day and participate in a multitude of engaging activities. This program is an unforgettable experience for these campers because it gives them a safe place to play outside as well as two nutritious meals.

A group of presenters came to UMC to inform us about the projects we would be doing and the causes that we would be helping this summer. I really connected to the presenter from Play S.A.F.E. because it was abundantly clear that he was dedicated helping the kids and doing his job well. I picked Play S.A.F.E. as my project because I feel that I share the same motivation as the presenter; I believe that my desire to help the community, especially children, can be exercised in this project. I also believe that I will learn a lot about the lives of others, build my greater desire to help people, and strengthen my sense of empathy.

My goal for the program is to learn more about other communities and put myself in my camper’s shoes. This will hopefully develop my sense of empathy and awareness to things that I might have not thought about before this program. I also want to develop lifelong friendships with the other participants and create lasting memories that will make this an unforgettable summer. I believe that with the amazing participants, inviting staff, and worthy cause, this program has already given me all the tools I need to achieve each of my goals. This program is a great opportunity for me to continue to exercise the values Camp Harlam instilled in me. I already feel like this program will have a big and positive impact on my life.


Day 2: First Day of Work

After my first day of work at the Play S.A.F.E. camp, I arrived home exhausted and ready for a nap and a shower. The day tested my leadership skills and physical endurance ways I had never experienced before. I was stationed at Buccleuch Park, an area shaded with trees and plenty of fields for the children and counselors to play on. Since we were outdoors, there was no air conditioning to protect us from the scolding heat. As a counselor, my job was to play with the campers and make sure that they took breaks in the shade for safety. I was paired up with another counselor who had grown up as a camper in the program. It was really cool to see that participants like to give back to the program because it impacted them so deeply.

I had never played as much soccer in my lifetime as I did today that day. Most of the kids in my group were amazing, and I mean amazing soccer players. I was shocked that my campers wanted to play for so long, despite the high temperature. As a counselor I have to always be willing to play, even when I am tired. I practiced nitzachon, or pushing through a challenge, to deal with the exhaustion caused by the prolonged physical activity and heat.

The day taught me so much about what I want to do in the future and reaffirmed the goals that I had set the night prior. I still believe that I will achieve my goals and I will never forget this day.