Friday, June 18, 2010

Shabbat Hukkat - Thoughts on Kabbalat Shabbat and Camp

 יִשְׂמְחוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְתָגֵל הָאָרֶץ;    יִרְעַם הַיָּם, וּמְלֹאוֹ  
 יַעֲלֹז שָׂדַי, וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ;    אָז יְרַנְּנוּ, כָּל-עֲצֵי-יָעַר 
 לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, כִּי בָא

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea and all that is in it roar;
Let the field -and all that fills it - be joyful; then all the trees of the wood will sing for joy before the LORD, for God is arriving;
Psalm 96: 11 - 13

The second Psalm of Kabbalat Shabbat calls on us to thank God, which is not the least bit unusual for the Psalmist.  In fact, it is the obvious theme for Tehillim.  What draws my attention to these verses, however, is the emphasis on the way that we are partners with natural phenomenon in acknowledging and thanking God.  The Psalmist is so descriptive in the word choice and emphasizes the fullness of all that is in the world.

In our everyday lives, it can be so easy to lose perspective on the way that nature offers us both the benefit and delight in its beauty as well as its partnership in offering thanks.  Too often, many of us, myself included, simply become numb to our surroundings, to the little moments of natural grandeur that are in our world.  We forget to stop and look at a beautiful flower or an interesting bug.  We get so caught up in our own worlds that we don't notice the sunrise or the clouds except when they are annoyances.

At camp, most of us are out of our normal urban or suburban environments.  I know that I am far more aware of the heavens, the Wedgewood blue in the sky today, the stars at night, the interesting shapes of the clouds, than I ever am in Lakeview in Chicago (where most nights the stars are blocked out by the lights of Wrigley Field, Lincoln Park, and Downtown).  I notice the sounds of the waves on the lake during the day and, in the early morning, note the absence of any sounds when the lake is still as it was this morning.  At Ramah Wisconsin, yes, the fields - the migrashim and the kikar - are filled with campers having fun, making friends, and deepening relationships.  They are also bursting with beautiful flowers and grasses. They just make you feel good when you see them.  And, as I sit here in the office with the window open, I hear the trees singing, literally. As the wind blows the branches and the leaves shake, the trees sing praise to the Heavens.

Right now, we may be more aware than ever of the fragile balance that exists between us and nature as oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico.  We may be more conscious of the need for partnership in praise as opposed to dominance for resources as our politicians think through ways to create new and renewable resources.  It should not, however, require the crisis moments to hear the trees sing and the lakes roar, to notice the fields and their beauty as opposed to seeing future parking lots.  This Shabbat, I hope that just as we will have the chance to enjoy all of the natural beauty of the Northwoods of Wisconsin that you will have that opportunity as well.  And I hope that we all take time to focus on our praising in partnership with nature.

Shabbat Shalom.

Camp Observations from Rabbi Sykes

It has been a great and busy start here at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.  For those of you checking our blog at or following the camp or my personal Twitter feed, you know just how much is going on.  Here is a brief window into what I have seen and heard over the past two days:

I walk past two campers, one boy and one girl, from Machon sitting on a picnic bench. I know one of them from Chicago.  I ask them how things are going, how their tzrifim are, and how their madrichim (counselors) are.  First the boy tells me his stories.  The girl, in answering me, tells me about each of her counselors and then, unsolicitedly, tells me that she loves Bat El, her shlicha, not just because she is awesome but because she is helping her with her Hebrew! What more could a Ramah director ask for?

I sit down on the Kikar.  Three participants from the Atzmayim program sit down with me and ask me all kinds of questions about camp and tell me all the things that I need to know.  It is clear that they love camp a ton.

I walk into the kitchen to say hello and go to the back and say hi to Wally, our baker, and Sanchez, his apprentice.  Wally offers me an apron.  I take it and for the next half hour, I help shape what will later be baked as rolls.  Wally shares all kinds of great bakery stories with me. We are truly blessed to have such a fantastic person working with us this summer.  From there, I go and wash dishes with a few members of the kitchen staff and then dice some tofu. Everyone at camp is a key member of the team and I get to know them in a totally different way than just saying hello.

At 6:20 am, I leave the house to go to the moadon chadash.  Camp is quiet. The lake is calm as a sheet of glass.  The fog is rising and the sun is shining.   A few staff members are gathering for the first staff yoga class of the summer.  Ten people show up for the first session taught by our Madrichat Yoga, Rebecca Sykes.  I am NOT a regular practioner of yoga.  In fact, I think that this is only my fourth class ever.  Yet, at the end, I find that I am suprisingly energized and open to all that the day will bring.  

Shabbat is quickly approaching.  Dancing on the kikar is about to begin before lunch.  Set up for tefillot to follow.  We are hoping that the weather will hold so we can be by the agam (lake).  So much happens each minute that it is impossible to report on all that takes place here at camp.  I hope this gives you just a sweet taste of camp as you enter Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Loren Sykes

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