Throughout my life, I have learned that home is not just the place that you live or the town you are from. The town where I live does not feel like home to me. It never has. I have always been happy there and have wonderful parents and a great family, but I have always felt like there was a piece missing.
As I grew up and was exposed to new people and new places, I found that other locations can feel like home and where I belong. When I was nine years old, I spent my first summer at a Jewish sleepaway camp, and I came to understand what I was missing in my hometown.
At camp I found people that I could relate to at the core, something that I never really found in my hometown. Camp instantly felt like a home to me within minutes of arriving. It wasn’t because of the beautiful lake, the rec hall, or really the physical place at all, even though I absolutely love the “place” of camp. I was at home because I was surrounded by people that grew up just like me, with the same Jewish values and traditions. I made the most amazing group of friends that I consider to be my sisters. I felt understood and a great sense of belonging.
Throughout my time at camp I have discovered my true self and the types of people that I want to surround myself with. My mother always says that I look different when I’m at camp—happier—and I think this is because I can be exactly who I am. I have always felt a sense of freedom there.
A day that I frequently reflect on was a rainy day toward the end of the summer of 2018, my last summer as a camper. All of the girls came together on one of the big porches and all sang camp songs together. We were all crying and upset that our last summer was soon coming to an end.
After our song session, my friends and I returned to our bunk, all feeling sad. Our counselor turned on fun music and we had a dance party to lift our spirits. Within less than five minutes, we were screaming, laughing, and dancing around our bunk like total fools.
When I reflect on that day, I often think about how I went from hysterically crying to dancing around like a crazy person without a single thought that anyone would judge me. The thought never crossed my mind, and it definitely would have if I was in this situation with any other people.
Once camp ended each summer, I spent the whole year longing to go back to the place that is so special to me and where I can be myself. The next summer, between 10th and 11th grades, my camp and the North American Federation for Temple Youth (NFTY) plan a big trip to Eastern Europe and Israel. I knew this would be the experience of a lifetime, and I was so excited to be with my favorite people in a brand-new place and one that is so special to the Jewish people.
I was nervous that I wouldn’t have that feeling of home that I had at camp while we were away, though. I was extremely wrong about this. I felt comfortable and at home in Israel no matter where in the country we traveled. One of the times that I felt surprisingly at home was the first night of camping in the desert. I had never camped before, and I was extremely anxious about it. My friends did everything they could to make me feel comfortable and safe, and I ended up being so worried for nothing. My friends helped me conquer this fear which made the other five nights of camping through the trip much easier. They made me feel like my fears weren’t silly. With their support, I felt at home even though we were in the desert in a foreign country. I felt the same feeling of home in Israel that I did at camp.
My experiences at camp and in Israel have shown me the true qualities that make a place feel like a home. The physical location has very little to do with it. What makes a place home is the people that you surround yourself with. These are the people that accept you and allow you to be your true self with no judgment.
So if you were to ask me, “What is home to you?,” I will not say it is in my hometown. I will say that my home is in the places that I feel like I can be the best version of myself and will be accepted and loved for that. I feel so grateful and lucky to have found that at camp, in Israel, and with my family in the house that I live.
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