The 2022 OJCS Middle School Retreat: Friendship is Magic (Getting Our Mojo Back)

We did it!

After a couple of years of COVID-friendly day trips in lieu, our Fifth Annual OJCS Middle School Retreat was a triumphant return to Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa and a return to the true spirit and format of what this experience is supposed both be and mean.  Our theme for The 2022 Middle School Retreat was the same as it was for Faculty Pre-Planning Week as it is for the whole school for the whole year: “Getting Our Mojo Back”.  Over three days, we engaged in three different peulot (informal Jewish educational programs) where our students, by class, by grade, and as a full middle school had a chance to review and lean into the Jewish values that will enable us to maintain and grow a healthy and constructive middle school community and culture.  I sometimes think that our school culture is a three-legged stool, with our North Stars, our “7 Habits” and our Jewish Values keeping us steady and stable.  I was very impressed by the level of engagement and the quality of conversation – whether we were inside, outside, sleepy or wide awake – that our students contributed to this part of the experience.

Here’s a snapshot (or 12) of our experience:

Day #1

Our day got started at school and we were quickly on our way to CBB by about 9:00 AM.  We arrived at Camp by about 10:00 AM, unpacked the bus, moved into cabins and enjoyed some free time and an opportunity to sample some of the recreational activities campers enjoy at CBB during the summer.  We then had lunch and moved into our activities for the day…
As has become our tradition, the first thing we do on the Middle School Retreat  are a set of fun, team-building activities planned and led by our Grade 8s:
[You can check out the school’s social media for some exciting tug-of-war videos!]
After that we moved into our first of three peulot (activities) for the Retreat.  We used the peulot to explore Jewish notions of “friendship” and “community”.  The first one was about Lashon Ha’Rah (Gossip) and how we can do a better job of observing the mitzvah of Lo Lashon Ha’Rah (Not Gossiping).  We explored a little text, did a little role-play and each grade recorded a 90-second PSA that we will look forward to sharing.
After the peulah we were ready for more free time and to get ready for dinner.  After dinner we went into our second peulah.  This one was about the Jewish value of Hokheah Tokhiah, which literally means “reproof”, but is shorthand for dealing with “conflict resolution”.  Again, we studied some text, did a few role-plays, learned a little about Martin Buber‘s concept of “I-It / I-Thou”, and practiced healthy ways we can navigate conflict.
Day #2

This morning we woke up bright and early and enjoyed a yummy bagel breakfast!

From there we went on a brief nature-themed Tefillah experience where we chose a location at CBB that best exemplified the “big idea” of each prayer.  For example, for the Yotzer which celebrates Creation, we climbed onto a balcony to revel in the beauty of the great outdoors.
After Tefillah, we packed up, boarded the buses and headed off to Caverne Laflèche par Arbraska for our main event!  We were split into groups and alternated between exploring the caves…
…and enjoying a ropes course and zipline adventure!
After all that adventure, we…
…headed back to camp and got ready for a yummy BBQ of hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken wings.
…played a game of Capture the Flag.
…built a campfire and did classic campfire things.
Day #3
We began the day with a spirited (bit-too-early) Kabbalat Shabbat and then moved into our final peulah of the retreat, “Dilemmas of Friendship,” which tried to tie together the themes of the retreat and set us up to be a healthy Middle School Community upon our return.
We then cleaned up our cabins and the camp, packed and loaded up the bus, and headed out to Gatineau Park for lunch and a hike.
We then boarded the bus and headed back to OJCS!
Speaking of “triumphant returns” – please join us for our in-person “Back to School Night” taking place on Wednesday, September 21st from 7:00 – 8:30 PM.  (Although we are not offering a hybrid experience, materials will be made available to parents who are unable to join us.)
Will I have time to squeeze out my annual pun-tastic High Holiday post before Rosh Hashanah?  Stay tuned!

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. Jon has recently begun his rabbinical school journey at the Academy for Jewish Religion and is thrilled to have joined the faculty of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI) as a mentor for Cohort 12. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

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