Friday, July 29, 2011

Parashat Masei - On Legacy and Inheritance

What do you get when you take a Greek Island, a very loose plot line, and a bunch of great songs from the band ABBA translated into Hebrew?  A fantastic Nivonim 2011 play titled “Mamma Mia!”  I was so impressed by the energy of the entire aidah, the huge smiles, loud voices, and gigantic dance scenes.  These chanichim, in their final camper stage performance, went all in and left nothing on the table at the end.  When they finished their final number and all of their “Todah Rabbahs,” there were lots of hugs, some huge smiles and even a few tears.  In addition, there were several parents who came up to camp to see their last camper-age child perform in their last camp Hebrew musical.  Finally, there were some members of Adat HaNivonim 1986 in attendance in advance of their twenty-fifth Nivonim reunion.  Nivonim was coming full circle: for the campers, their staff, their parents, and the alumni. 
I honestly cannot believe that we are on the verge of the eighth and final week of the 2011 camp season.  I don’t know where the time went.  We always say that days in camp feel like weeks but weeks feel like days.  It is so true.  It seems like yesterday that I was just pulling into camp to start Hanhalla week and yet here we are, getting ready to put the final touches on what has been a phenomenal camp season.  While they may not be explicit in their conversations, one of the things on the mind of Nivonim 2011 is what kind of legacy they want to leave in camp.  It is an important question.  When they return in twenty-five years, what will they want to remember about themselves?  What impact will they want other people to remember about them and their role in camp?  What is their collective identity and what did they leave to the generations that followed them in camp? 
These are the same questions that the alumni of Nivonim 1986 will be talking about all weekend long.  In addition to remembering all of the sweet and fun times at camp, they will talk about the impact that camp had on them and that they had on future generations when they came back as staff members (I have a soft spot for Nivonim 1986 as I was their madrich in 1985 and 1986 and over the years, many have become some of my dearest friends).  They will ponder their legacies as campers and staff members.  What were these years about?  What meaning and messages did they hold for each individual in the twenty-five years since they completed their camper years?  There will be lots of smiling and laughing as well as a lot of personal reflection for each alumnus in camp this week.
Beyond the question of what legacy Nivonim 2011 will leave on camp, there is another question to be asked, one that may be even more important:  What is the inheritance we bequeath to our children by sending them to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin?  In the Triptik of experiences that we give our children, the personal and communal Jewish journeys we send them on, what do we intend for them to receive?  What are our Jewish hopes and aspirations for them that motivate us to send them to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin instead of some other place?
If we think about the Ramah experience as a Jewish investment that extends from entering fourth grade Kochavim campers to at least a second year tzevvet (staff) members, what kind of Jews do we hope to build?  What messages do we want to send them about what is important in life? In spirit? In service? In connection with the people, the land, and the  State of Israel? In Torah? In Mitzvot? In relationship to God? By choosing Ramah, you are making an investment that extends well beyond just insuring that your children have Jewish friends and have a good time.  Choosing Ramah means sending the message that…
Living Jewishly every day is important;
That having meaningful encounters and relationships with other Jews on topics of import adds substance to friendship;
That we should seek to live in a fun, supportive Jewish community;
That wrestling with Jewish texts, from ancient and traditional to modern and non-traditional, adds meaning throughout life;
That just as we seek excellence in secular areas of life, we should strive for excellence in our Jewish spiritual lives as well.
And the list could go on for pages and pages…
While they are not coming home just yet (we do have one more week of camp left!), I hope that you will be thinking about how to encourage your children to continue living this way once they return at the end of the camp season.  Let them know what Jewish inheritance you are giving them by sending them to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.  Let them know that you are aware that this is more than just a summer experience but that it is a model for lifelong Jewish friendship, learning and living.  And let them know how you will reinforce these messages throughout the year.
Starting this afternoon, I will have the pleasure of sitting with my former campers and dear friends here for their 25th reunion and listening to how camp impacted their Jewish souls and lives, what they got from the experience as an inheritance and what legacies they feel they left to the campers for whom they were counselors.  We will laugh and, knowing this group well, we will cry plenty.  We will remember and we will rejoice.  I hope that the same will be true for Nivonim 2011.  My message to them will be this: Enjoy your last week in camp, leave a great legacy, and appreciate the excellent Jewish inheritance your parents and your communities have given to you by sending you to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.
And then, remember to pay it forward to generations to come.

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