By Eva Jason

Mid-October, the Santa Cruz Hillel embarked on a camping trip to Balaban Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The trip was provided courtesy of Hillel, open to any students wanting to get some sunshine and connect with their Jewishness.

In order to acquaint ourselves with each other, we played one of the longest name games ever. Each person chose an alliterative adjective, such as “Zippy Zach” or “Lovely Leah.”

After 45 minutes, the “longest name game of life” finally ended with the last person reciting the names and respective adjectives of all 30 people in the circle—an impressive feat.

Everyone split up: Some jumped on the trampoline, others hiked in the mountains, and still others edged their way into the frigid pool. Many helped out around the campsite with various chores—setting up the tents or cutting up a mountain of onions.

Finally, the long anticipated dinner began. We all sat down together at the picnic table, said the Hamotzi, and dug into a feast of cheesy potatoes, salad, garlic bread, and broccoli. One camper described the salmon as irrefutably “dank”.

Afterward, everyone took a short hike to a calm, flat area—the beautiful setting where the Havdalah service took place. We stood in two tight circles, swaying under the redwood trees, bringing Shabbat to a close, and welcoming in a new peaceful week.

Everyone looked up at the starry sky for a few moments, reflecting on the week that had just ended, thinking of what the next would hold. Suddenly, the song leader broke the silence, playing “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.

Everyone burst into laughter and then into song. The party carried on back to the campsite, where we sang songs from the timeless “Bohemian Rhapsody” to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Out”.

Free from any inhibitions, everyone sang at the top of their lungs. Each song ended with applause and cheering, ringing in the spirit of true camp fun.

More importantly, we were not only connected by our shared faith, but by our shared experiences.

We were, cheesy as it sounds, bonded. Everyone gathered in the crisp morning air as we enjoyed our assortment of muffins, cereals, and bagels. We all said our bittersweet goodbyes. One week later, it was hard not to think back to the time spent in the mountains. As a freshman, I was able to meet some new, interesting people, while still connecting with those that I already knew.

Thank you Jason Balaban for hosting us and Santa Cruz Hillel for this fun free trip.

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