Shabbat in Summer

Reconnecting and Recharging with Summer Worship

For many, perhaps especially those of us involved in education, summer is the most wonderful time of the year.  It is a time for changing up our schedules, heading outdoors  (or out of the area), and stepping  out of some of our everyday routines for a while. 

For a number of our Temple families, mine included, summer also means an opportunity for our children to spread their wings at a Jewish camp. Temple Beth Am youth have enjoyed time over the last two months in day camp at Deeny Riback, in short-stay specialty camps at NJY Camps, in session at URJ Camp Harlam, URJ Camp Eisner, Cedar Lake and Surprise Lake, and even in Israel with URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute. Each of these camps does things a little differently. Favorite tunes, camp traditions, amenities, affiliations, specialties, staff and schedules may vary.  But as Jewish camps, one of the things they all share is communal prayer, and the celebration of Shabbat. 

Before I spent time on faculty at Camp Harlam this summer – my first time spending more than a few hours at a Jewish camp – it surprised me a little every time one of our students named “Shabbat services” as one of their favorite things about Jewish camp. I enjoy all sorts of services, especially those filled with music! But when measured up against high ropes, swimming in the pool or the lake, boating, jetskis, trips, campfires, shows, ziplines, robotics, Maccabiah competitions and sports – how does worship, which we offer every week right here at Temple, make a camper’s list of favorite summer experiences? 

A Friday night service, here or at camp, is familiar to our students. While there may be a different tune here or there, or a change in instruments used as accompaniment, we pray the same Hebrew prayers, and they show up in the same order in the service. The keva – the framework and routine of our Jewish worship – ties us together. It is a foundation shared by campers, staff, faculty, and visitors from all over. It enables us to participate even when we are still new to camp. Someone new to our services at Temple might experience our worship the same way. 

But at camp, Shabbat is not just “Friday night” or “Saturday morning” – it is Shabbat.  The distractions of the school year are nonexistent as every soul in camp moves into Shabbat together.  Worship often takes place in beautiful outdoor spaces. It is difficult not to feel a sense of wonder, gratitude, and awe when seated in an outdoor chapel on top of a hill, with majestic views in every direction. It is difficult not to feel like part of something larger than oneself, when the song of several hundred voices lifts through tall branches in a chapel in the woods, where the Torah rests in the crook of the ancient tree that serves as its ark. It is difficult to not feel the depth and breadth of our Jewish community when sharing worship with so many friends, from so many places – America, Europe, Israel.  Sometimes, it can be easier to access the kavanah – the intention, the prayer that comes straight from our hearts – when we get to experience prayer in such a community, in the midst of God’s creations of nature. 

If you have found your way to Temple Beth Am’s Shabbat services this summer, you may have felt something like this this right here in Parsippany. Or Pine Brook. Or Mountain Lakes.  Worship held outside, or poolside, or at the homes of our congregational family, with pets or over barbeque, helps us access our feeling of community, and the intention fueling our prayer, in a whole new way.  It has given us a ‘summer break’ from some of our comfortable routine, and a maybe few new thoughts about how we experience prayer and community. 

It is my hope for all of us, that we will emerge from our summer worship experiences feeling reconnected, recharged, and prepared to head into High Holy Days with a renewed sense of focus and purpose.  We’ve just a few short weeks left of summer. Let’s make the most of them. 


Lynn Anne Cutler