Posted on May 21st, 2016

Making Scientific Mensches

What do Ilan Ramon, the Periodic Table and Shabbat all have in common? At 6 Points Sci-Tech, the nation’s only Jewish science and technology camp, these elements make up an unforgettable experience for hundreds of campers throughout North America. When 6 Points Sci-Tech opened its doors in 2014, we dreamed of a community where Jewish kids would connect with Judaism using science and technology as its vehicle. As of this summer, 6 Points Sci-Tech will have done just that for more than 500 children. Throughout the day at camp, Jewish values, concepts and stories are woven in to every aspect of camp.

Symbols throughout campus transform a historic boarding school into a Jewish camp. One of these is our Periodic Table of Jewish values6pt-Making-Mensches-Periodic-Table that lives in almost every building and every dorm, serving as a reminder about personal behavior. In fact, this Periodic Table is used as the basis for our dorm britot -the agreement that is made between campers about living together- using “elements” from the table as the guide. Every night before bedtime, campers in each dorm gather and share how they observed friends that day living these values. Similarly, our staff Shabbat ritual provides staff an opportunity to show one another appreciation for values demonstrated throughout the week.

In our workshops, Judaism takes shape in ways that are uniquely “Sci-Tech.” Our guest rabbis, cantors, and educators on faculty work closely with our lead instructors to weave Judaism seamlessly into the curriculum. Last summer, Lisa Friedman (Temple Beth El of Hillsborough, NJ) took a unique approach to connecting campers to Jewish concepts. Our oldest campers in the Forensics workshop had just surveyed a “crime scene” where a plastic dummy lay. The campers had to determine what happened and through their learning, they got to the bottom of the mystery. As a part of the conversation, Lisa introduced an idea with our teens that Judaism has very specific rituals surrounding a person’s death. The campers had an ensuing discussion about how these practices show respect for the person’s family and are century-old traditions that are meant to accelerate the healing process for the family. Other conversations on the topic of “tzedek tirdof” often are popular among our young crime solvers.

For our youngest campers, conversations look a bit different. In Robotics, our campers conceptualize and design robots that compete with one another and accomplish specific tasks. The campers also have the opportunity to imagine and discuss the potential for robotics outside of the camp workshop. When thinking about “shomrei adamah,” the Torah’s commandment to guard the earth, and its connection to Israel, campers learn about robots that clean dust off of the solar panels at the Kibbutz Keturah solar field. Campers also had an opportunity to meet with Jewish scientists who live Jewish values through their life’s work, including Dr. David Crandell, who works with patients with prosthetic limbs. His work was instrumental in fitting victims of the Boston bombing for prostheses. Campers even got to test out some of the robotic arms. Each session, campers create a unique blessing for their robot, honoring how robotics can repair the world.

Every morning our “Boker Big Bang” ritual starts with an enthusiastic Modeh Ani, the blessing thanking God for restoring our souls, as well as the recitation of the Nisim B’chol Yom (Daily Miracles) with our faculty. It is amazing to consider that almost all of them are based in science! Rather than a closing song to our morning prayer experience, our staff does a science demonstration that ends with a “bang.”

Our camp dorms are named for prominent Jewish innovators including Rosalind Franklin (DNA Researcher) and Ralph Baer (Holocaust Survivor and inventor of the game Simon). Mezuzot are made of test tubes, the Aron Kodesh is a circuit board tree of life, and the mishlachat, our Israeli emissaries, share the Israeli invention of the day. Yet Shabbat t’filah, song session, and dinner have the same beauty, warmth and enthusiasm of any URJ camp.

At 6 Points Sci-Tech, discussions in the Chadar Ochel explore big questions about the universe, God, ethics in science, and Jewish Minecraft, or “Menschcraft,” as my friend Rabbi Jeff Sirkman likes to say. URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech is a home for campers who thirst for science and technology and want to be a part of a welcoming and inclusive community that will build Jewish identity to foster a lifelong commitment to Judaism.

 

Greg Kellner is the director of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy. He has been part of the URJ Camps and NFTY family for more than 20 years. Prior to being with 6 Points Sci-Tech, Greg served as the Senior Assistant Director of the URJ Crane Lake Camp and as the Assistant Director of the URJ Eisner Camp. Greg also served as a production assistant and producer of SiriusXM’s Radio Hanukkah. Greg holds an MPA in non-profit management from CUNY Baruch College in Manhattan.