Camping is a religious experience in my book

As you read this, I’m sleeping under the stars (or maybe soaking up some sun, depending on the time of day). My fiancé and I are taking advantage of the pre–Labor Day lull to go camping upnorth near Ukiah. Two nights of sleeping in a tent, grilling (veggie) sausages and kabobs over a wood fire, waking up to the sound of birds chirping instead of planes landing at SFO … could anything be more heavenly?

Apparently so. I was recently taken aback when someone expressed surprise at my love of roughing it, and suggested to me that “Jews don’t camp.”

Is it true? It certainly wouldn’t seem so if Jewish history is taken into account. After all, we were once a nomadic people — which meant, of course, living in portable, quick-assemble tents. Those tents were known as sukkot, and that nomadic life and its dwellings are celebrated during the eponymous holiday, during which we are supposed to sleep in our own sukkot in our backyard.

But aside from the few families who still spend eight nights in the sukkah, do Jews camp? Certainly, getting back to nature and celebrating creation is a Jewish value. Yet with many (maybe even most) Jews living in urban areas, not to mention the stereotype of the Jew who can’t deal with mosquitoes, mud and marshmallows, maybe it’s true that Jews don’t camp.

Now, I’m not about to go generalizing about this — I’d love to hear from you, dear reader, about your own Jewish camping stories. It’s just a hypothesis — one I’d be glad to prove wrong.

Here in the Bay Area, the Jewish community seems to be more outdoorsy in general than the East Coast Jews I grew up with — my family notwithstanding. (One of my mother’s favorite stories to share was about her family’s six-week road trip through the American West, complete with canned kosher meat — which, she tells me, “by the end of the trip we thought was wonderful.”)

So maybe you don’t need tips to have a positive Jewish camping experience, but just in case, here are mine:

1) If you keep kosher, skip the meat. Nothing, but nothing is better after a good campfire dinner than making s’mores. And s’mores are nothing without three squares of Hershey’s milk chocolate — and you don’t want to wait hours to be able to eat it (the fire will be long dead). There are plenty of meat-free meal choices — and frankly, it’s safer and easier not to have to deal with frozen steaks.

2) Two words: Dr. Bronner’s. This nice-smelling castile soap can be used for everything from body wash to shampoo to hand soap to dish detergent, without leaving residue (even when washing in cold campsite water).

Dr. Bronner’s has been a camping staple for decades, and as a bonus, it’s got a Jewish connection. Emanuel Bronner, the Jewish founder of Dr. Bronner’s, immigrated to America from Germany in 1929 and pleaded with his parents to follow him. They didn’t, and their deaths in the Holocaust led Bronner to become an advocate for world peace and harmony. Check out the Judeo-Christian ravings — er, sayings on every bottle of Dr. Bronner’s for a fun time.

3) Leave it all behind. I use every camping trip as an opportunity to experience the outdoors the way my ancestors did in the Sinai Desert — without radios, portable TVs or hair dryers. The one exception? While camping in Key Largo, Fla., in 90-degree heat (and that was in the middle of the night!), we brought a plug-in fan.

4) Bring God into it. When you wake up in the morning, recite “Mah Tovu” — it’s one of the first prayers we say during Shacharit (morning prayers), and it’s even about camping: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob.” When you stargaze in the evenings, think about God’s promise to Abraham, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

Rachel Freedenberg is a copy editor at j. She can be reached at [email protected]