As I was growing up, summer camp was one of the most formative experiences of my youth. It was the highlight of my year. I went to a Christian summer camp for ten years from an eight-year-old camper up to a counselor.

My camp friends were my best friends. I even keep in touch with many of them today. It was also where my parent’s faith became my faith. So obviously, when we at 12-21 decided to create a Messianic summer camp, I was ecstatic.

My wife, Shannon, and I were the camp mom and dad. Our first duty was to go to the airport to pick up the campers who were flying in and get them on the camp bus. Then we made a stop in Hudson at Beth Immanuel to collect some more campers and headed to camp. We recognized some from previous 12-21 events, and there were others we had never met before. Nevertheless, we were all wondering, staff and campers alike, “What would this first year of Camp Tzadi be like?”

My goal from the very beginning was to create a safe place where Messianic Jewish and Gentile teens could experience their faith and make it their own. From the first Shacharit service to the last campfire, it was abundantly clear to me that Camp Tzadi was just that. To see the campers dance, sing, pray, and engage in the study of God’s Word was inspiring. These teens didn’t participate in all these spiritual activities because they had to, they did it because they wanted to.

Additionally, campers participated in a host of activities. There was Capture the Flag, soccer, swimming, gaga ball, arts and crafts, ropes course, horseback riding, and the climbing wall to name a few. It was non-stop action. One of the highlights of the ten days was Israel Day when campers went around a huge field visiting different stations that were set up as various locations in Israel where they learned about each area and participated in a fun activity. Despite how tired everyone was at the end of the day we always ended each night with the now infamous “Goodnight Song.”

In my opinion, one of the best parts about Camp Tzadi for Messianic teens is that many of them, for the first time in their lives, were not the odd ones out—that kid with the strange beliefs, the one who has a weird diet and can’t do anything on Saturday. No, at camp everyone practices Messianic Judaism, and keeping kosher and the Sabbath are just a part of the program. Camp Tzadi is a place where everyone feels as though they belong and they don’t have to hold anything back.

The first year of Camp Tzadi was awesome, but we are not resting on our success. God willing, our goal at 12-21 is to build on this first year and grow it into an intergenerational camp that has a major impact on Messianic Judaism and enables us to pass the torch on to the next generations. We pray those who joined us this year will return and those who didn’t will consider coming next year to find out what makes camp so special.