Friday, July 15, 2011

The Wizard of Oz, Pinhas Ben Elazar, and the Power of Daily Jewish Living

Last night, we were treated to a wonderful performance of “HaKosem Me’Eretz Utz,” known in the vernacular as “The Wizard of Oz.”  The Sollelim, our entering 7th grade aidah, did a great job on stage. They were energetic, sang loudly, and smiled throughout.  At the end of the show, they thanked everyone, presented their plaque, sang their aidah song, and then joined with the rest of camp in the traditional singing of the Hymnon Ramah, our camp song.  It was a beautiful night.

We all know the story of the Wizard of Oz and ramahniks know the show not only in English with Judy Garland as Dorothy but in Hebrew with any number of current and former campers having played the lead role.  We know the travails of Dorothy and her friends as they search for what they need the most: Knowledge, heart, courage and home.  We revel in their defeat of evil, their uncovering of the imposter, and their discovering that what they really need already resides in their own souls. Knowledge, Heart, Courage, and Home…That is what they need, what they seek, and what they already have.

In my walks around camp this week, and throughout the summer, I see campers discovering knowledge, exploring their Jewish hearts,finding the courage to be fully who they are as budding members of the Jewish community, and I see them both building their Jewish homes for the summer and filing images away for what their own Jewish homes will be like in the future.  Jewish knowledge, heart, courage and home are the pillars of what we accomplish here at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.  At the end of the day, this is what we are really all about.  Take those things out of camp, do them for shorter periods of time or in a “lite” way, and we lose our soul and our direction.  Do them right and we change worlds.

Our camp is percolating with great Jewish programming and interactions. Bogrim and Machon worked with Carl Schrag and their staff on a simulation game about the possible upcoming vote in the UN in September toward Palestinian statehood.  The chanichim took this incredibly seriously.  They were totally invested and engaged.  And you know what, they had a lot of fun in this very serious program.  They learned by doing, did not shy away from a difficult subject, and looked beyond the simple solution to attempt to understand the nuances of a complicated issue.  In Bogrim tefillot, campers are sharing their own version of NPR’s “This I Believe…” revealing to their peers some of their deepest, most soulful thoughts about who they are and what being Jewish means to them.  Campers in our bet midrash program are wrestling with traditional Jewish texts on a daily basis while campers in our film program are wrestling with Jewish identity through an artist’s lens.  Finding one’s Jewish voice, be it in a creative writing workshop with camp alumna, Deanna Neal, or in a Jewish Chicks Rock session with camp alumna, Naomi Less, is another path to strengtheningone’s Jewish connection during the summer.  

Chaninchim and madrichim – campers and staff members – gain a new level of Jewish literacy, comfort and fluency through daily Jewish living.  The repetition of the daily routine and ritual of Jewish life during the summer becomes an investment in how people can choose to live in the future.  This Shabbat, at the heart of Parashat Pinhas, we read about the importance of routine and ritual rhythm in the context of the daily, weekly, holiday, and celebratory sacrifices to be brought by the Israelites.  This was the framework for creating a sense of peoplehood and of connecting with God. While profoundly different than animal sacrifices, the daily and weekly routine of Jewish prayer, values, and rituals that we live at camp become springboards for communal strengthening and investment in the future.

We don’t append Judaism to what we do at camp.  It is front and center.  It is the root structure of what we are all about.  From morning services to learning Hebrew with cool Israelis, from singing in Hebrew in the chadar ochel to dancing to Israeli popular music on the kikar, campers grow as Jews by doing fun, engaging, content-full activities with their friends.  The ruach of Friday night Tefillot and the powerful sense of the Divine Presence that descends on the chadar ochel during Saturday evening seudah shlisheet speak to the souls of the campers who make themselves fully present and open to the experience.  Campers develop increased pride in themselves as Jews and discover the courage to stand up as Jews throughout the year.  It is truly amazing to watch and to be a part of this entire process.

Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is unique in our ability to be a place where campers discover their Jewish knowledge, heart and soul, courage, and a model for a Jewish home.  We are not a place that is “somewhere over the rainbow” a magical place that cannot be home; rather, we are a microcosm of what the future can be for the individual Jew, their community, and our people.  We don’t create the minds, hearts, strengths and homes – we help people discover them within themselves. 

So thanks to Aidat HaSollelim not only for a great performance last night but for the profound message for all of us: the ability to grow our Jewish knowledge, heart and soul, spirit and courage all residewithin ourselves.  We need to be in a setting that fosters their growth and expansion.  And it is precisely this setting that Camp Ramah in Wisconsin provides for each of us.  The only question left is:  will we have the courage to use them, to grow them, and to strengthen them.

Shabbat Shalom. 

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