Rabbi Billy

Finding the Answers to Life’s Biggest Question

By Rabbi Billy Dreskin, Woodlands Community Temple

Last November, as soon as I heard there was going to be a new URJ camp, 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, I wrote to its director, Greg Kellner, and asked if I could serve on his first faculty. There are a couple of reasons why I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this community. First, as a rabbi these past twenty-seven years, I’ve been teaching about Judaism’s compatibility with science; thus, the Reform movement’s opening of a summer camp devoted to this concept was irresistible to me. Second, I’m a bit of a nut for science and the thought that some iteration of Beakman’s World might show up at Sci-Tech, and that I could see Robbie don a labcoat and goggles, make things smoke and erupt, all while explaining the chemistry involved, was way too big of an opportunity to miss.

Robbie, Assistant Director, performing a Boker Big Bang Experiment

Robbie, Assistant Director, performing a Boker Big Bang Experiment

So at the end of June, I packed up my car and made the drive from New York to Massachusetts. As soon as I entered the chadar ochel (dining hall) and I saw the Sci-Tech Academy poster that reads, “In this place, we discover create explore electrify ponder wonder invent celebrate question change respect inspire connect and support,” I was hooked!

In many ways, Sci-Tech is like every other URJ summer camp. We sing, we celebrate Shabbat, we play Gaga, we pray before and after meals, we love our counselors, and they love our kids. But at Sci-Tech, there’s a quantum leap to a whole other level. We program robots, we “mod” video games, we sing the theme to “Big Bang Theory,” we tell science riddles, we wake up to science experiments, we hold “Late Night” discussions with the staff about God and science, and we even have a special Sci-Tech Torah that teaches and celebrates our tradition’s quest to find the answers to life’s biggest questions.

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Each morning, the faculty do a bit of teaching about traditional Jewish prayers. But, like Google Glass, we look at the world through additional lenses. To teach about the morning prayer, which thanks God for opening the eyes of blind, we learned about “retinal prosthetics” which can transmit video signals to eyes that hadn’t previously been able to see. We also considered the ways that people who can see nevertheless, don’t, when for example, we shut our eyes to those who are in need. At Sci-Tech, we learn to solve problems by opening our eyes, asking questions, connecting with others to share ideas, and testing our theories through simulation and experimentation.

While I have no doubt that some, even many, of the kids who attend this amazingly creative and enchanting Sci-Tech Academy will go onto careers in math and science, every one of them will leave at the end of the session with the powerful challenge that not just science, but life itself, demands of us our greatest ideas, collaborations and efforts. All of this is disguised in a really cool camp that makes things smoke and erupt.

I’ll bet you know a kid who’ll love attending URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in the near future. Shabbat Shalom!

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4 Comments

  1. Marc Newman

    A great book for use at Sci-Tech might be Balfour Brickner’s “Finding God in the Garden,” it’s available on kindle. Great discussions of God relating to the natural world.

  2. Florence Appel

    What a great idea! I hope this camp makes a special effort to reach out to girls who are so gravely under represented in the stem fields!

    • Greg Kellner

      Florence! Yes! We are making a big push! Sci-Tech is a wonderful place where girls can feel comfortable and celebrated for being involved in STEM!

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