January 24, 2019

A Science Camp with Jewish Values

On the campus of California Lutheran University, more than 100 campers are focused on a model rocket, anticipating its launch. After a 10-second countdown, the rocket blasts more than 600 feet into the sky. As it floats back to the ground, the campers immediately chant, “Again, again!” 

This is a day in the life of a Jewish camper at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, which caters to 103 students from fifth to 10th grades.

The academy, which began in Massachusetts four years ago, expanded into the Los Angeles/Thousand Oaks area for the first time this year. It also hosts camps in Israel. 

Camp Director Jordanna Flores told the Journal she attributes the academy’s success to being a specialty camp that still gives attendees a classic Jewish summer camp experience.

Ninth-grader Eitan Seitchik echoed that sentiment, saying that he loves both the science and classic camp activities. “I have also really loved the carnival and eating s’mores,” he said. “It has been great to meet so many Jewish kids, make friends and have fun with all of the amazing counselors.” 

“The idea is to really capture the imagination of what the camper already loves,” Flores said. “Here, at science camp, they already love science, technology [and] computers and then we show them how that can be a way to connect to their Judaism.”

At the academy, those connections are forged through five Jewish ideas and values, Flores said, that comprise innovation, heritage, curiosity, radical acceptance and patience/perseverance.”

Flores broke these down:

“Innovation: brings creativity to life in order to try to make an impact on the world. 

“Heritage: Our Jewish heritage has a rich history of scientific and technological innovations, and it is our heritage to question everything and wrestle with ideas. 

“Curiosity: inspires our campers to question how and why things work and how Judaism and science can connect. 

“Radical acceptance: At camp, you meet a lot of new and different people and you have to celebrate the differences and uniqueness in everyone. 

“Patience and perseverance: inspires the kids to not shy away when faced with a challenge but instead to learn and work your way around it. 

“These (ideas and values) can be seen all the time, whether it’s in the dining hall, the dorms, or during an activity when they are building a rocket or discussing space. All of the campers also give back to the community by contributing to our mitzvah project and donating electronic waste,” Flores said.

This is a day in the life of a Jewish camper at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, which caters to 103 students from fifth to 10th grades.

Tim Handley, a video game design counselor and instructor, talked about how campers incorporate Jewish values such as tikkun olam into their games. “A group of campers (during the) last session created a level-based game where they had to overcome obstacles,” Handley said. “After overcoming each level, they would earn food and, at the end of the game, they had to give out the food to hungry people in order to win the game. The kids discussed how their game represented tikkun olam and how giving out food would repair the world.”

The camp also offers robotics, rockets, roller coaster design, astrophysics and multiple labs, which have included analyzing Newton’s Laws in comparison with Jewish prayers and microwaving fortune cookies to take out the fortune and replace it with a Torah quote. 

“With the perfect blend of the authentic Jewish camp experience and science, the camp has the young Jewish scientists excited,” Flores said.

Owen Pallenberg is a senior at Campbell Hall High School and a Jewish Journal summer intern.