For campers who want to spend part of their summer exploring the world of science, the Reform movement offers a two-week program just outside the science and technology hub near Boston. The 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism, offers students, grades 4 through 11, the opportunity to learn alongside science experts about such subjects as video game design, coding, robotics, and environmental science.
At the same time, the program works to put the latest advances in scientific understanding in a Jewish content. Not only do campers learn about the historical role that Jewish scientists have played in the development of technology, but they study the recent advances that Israel has made as an incubator of innovation. Each year, the camp hosts 10 to 15 counselors from Israel with extensive experience on the cutting edge of science.
According to Dan Medwin, an Atlanta-based rabbi who co-directs the summer program, the goal is to encourage an interest in science with an appreciation for Jewish technological advances.
“Last summer we had our drone instructor who flew drones for the Israeli army,” Rabbi Medwin said. “We have several computer programmers who’ve done that work in Israel’s army. So, we have the personal connections of Israelis who actually work in the tech fields in Israel.”
Bringing the recent development of Israel as a world leader in both applied and theoretical science is just one way that Medwin believes campers can learn how our knowledge of the physical world can complement our spiritual understanding of the universe. What Medwin mentions as Judaism’s core beliefs can also be integrated into a deeper understanding of how science and technology work.
In addition to patience, the core values that the program encourages are, kavod (respect), kesher (connection), taglit (discovery) and sakranut (curiosity). Rabbi Medwin believes that science and religion can be seen as complementing on another.
“Science asks the ‘how’ and Judaism asks the ‘why.’ The religion of Judaism and science are both heavily built on asking questions and curiosity. We don’t think that they’re opposites to one another. So, for example, we find, you know, we can think about G-d as a kind of wi-fi. It’s everywhere. We don’t see it unless we have the right tools. But when we can connect, we connect with a world and an infinite knowledge. And so, they really do inform each other.”
Science and spirituality have played a strong role in Rabbi Medwin’s life as well. He is married to Lydia Medwin, an associate rabbi at The Temple in Atlanta. His mother is also a rabbi. He has found that his job with the Sci-Tech Academy has brought these personal connections into sharper focus.
“When I was 13, a freshman in high school, and my mother started rabbinical school, I befriended her classmates and really fell in love with the idea of being a rabbi,” Medwin pointed out. “But I also found a strong draw to technology and computers. Although I started college as a computer science major, I didn’t really want to spend my life in front of a computer screen. I wanted to be helping people and working with them and teaching. Two summers ago, when I was working at the camp, I realized that this work really was such an ideal merging of my love of science and technology and my passion for Judaism.”
Registration for the program began last October and interest in attending has been strong. Already one of the three two-week summer sessions has been filled. The program draws participants from all over the country, including a number from communities where there are few Jewish residents, so while the program teaches science it also can help to strengthen Jewish identity as well.
“Sometimes, our campers are the only Jewish kid in their area. Sometimes, they’re the only one really into math or science or technology. So, we often provide a space where they can find their people, they can find others who are both Jewish and into science and technology. On a personal level, it fills them with a sense of warmth and connection and community that they may not otherwise have.”
So far, there is a significant delegation of campers from Atlanta who have signed up for the Massachusetts program. For others who might want to connect with Rabbi Medwin personally, the URJ’s 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy will be an exhibitor at the Atlanta Jewish Life Festival at the Georgia Aquarium on March 5.