Friday, May 4, 2012

Moadim - Gatherings

אלה מועדי יהוה מקראי קדש אשר-תקראו אתם במועדם: These are the gatherings of the Lord, holy gatherings, which you shall proclaim in their seasons. Leviticus 23:4 Note: In the US, you are going to be reading parshiot Acharei Mot - Kedoshim. Here in Israel, we are going to read Parashat Emor. This d'var Torah refers to parashat Emor. On Thursday, sitting on the soft grass of Kibbutz Shefayim, under the rich, sapphire blue Mediterranean sky, I was approached by Eliana and Naveh, two first year shlichim. They had questions about the previous meeting, part of the training seminar for the shlichim, which was designed to give all the Ramah shlichim the opportunity to hear about Judaism in camp and about the reactions of veteran shlichim to that experience. The Israelis had three groups to choose from: religious shlichim, secular shlichim, and those who were somewhere in the middle. Eliana and Naveh, who were on their own religious journeys, wanted to know what Conservative Judaism believed about revelation, faith, and Halakha - Jewish Law. For the next twenty minutes, I was part of a fascinating conversation where the more questions I answered, the more questions there seemed to be. I had a wonderful time explaining to them the various approaches to these topics in our Movement and I know that they appreciated the nuanced approach that we take to these central questions. Next to us, the national bird of Israel, the Duchifat, pecked the ground, ants crawled, and people passed by, unaware of the weighty conversation taking place on the grass. This is just one example of intense meetings, conversations and gatherings I had the privilege of joining during this week. The Training Seminar for Summer Shlichim is a truly incredible experience. Starting on Wednesday, 600 young, vibrant, committed Israelis arrived at Kibbutz Shefayim to prepare for their summer mission to Jewish summer camps throughout North American. During the course of the week, they attend sessions about the role of the shaliach as well as the role of the madrich - the staff member. They learn about North American Jewry. They engage in a variety of activities that serve as samples of the kind of things they can do at camp. When they get to Shefayim, they arrive as individuals. By the end of the week, they leave as a group of shlichim and as shagririm - as delegates and ambassadors - of The State of Israel both to the United States in general and to their specific camps. This week, they are part of a purposeful gathering, one that prepares them to strengthen the relationship between Jewish youth in North America and Israel. Over lunch today, I sat with our Rosh Chinuch, Dr. Gabi Shetrit to discuss this week's parasha, Emor. The second half of the parashah focuses on what we call the chagim, the holidays. The Torah refers to these times as moadim, which comes from the root, yud-ayin-daled, or goal. Moadim are purposeful gatherings and the Jewish year is built around them. These gatherings are not just about people doing rituals or observances that could be done at home as individuals; rather, they are about communal experiencing of the human-Divine relationship. Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, the Yamim Nora'im, bring the Jewish people together to consider and reconsider, to commit and to rededicate ourselves to turning the world into a place that is appropriate to be God's dwelling place. The world of Jewish camping has its own calendar, its own cycle of Moadim, of purposeful gatherings that mark the passing of the year from one camp season to the next. There is the season of evaluation and rest which arrives when camp ends. After the end of the High Holydays and the Sukkot, the next Moed arrives, the season of recruitment and retention, where we experience meaningful gatherings throughout our region, from Des Moines to Kansas City, from Lakeview to Columbus. Winter break marks the transition to the Moed of staffing when we travel the country meeting staff members, learning about their Jewish lives on campus and talking about the role camp plays for them. This also marks the Moed of general, but detailed planning. The training seminar for the shlichim marks the beginning of the Moed of the camp season. Annually, I leave this seminar with a full charge of energy and excitement about getting up to the Northwoods. And then...there is the summer, our central Moed, the time of our great joy, when camp directors get to watch all of the purposeful planning come together, when we get to see the lives of staff members and campers grow Jewishly in exponential fashion, when nearly 700 people come together for an extended gathering with the ultimate purpose is to build Jewish community, to see the future and to see God. In a few hours here in Israel, the sun will start to set and we will begin the Shabbaton Ramah of the seminar. If this year is like every previous seminar, we will feel the Shekhina, God's Divine Presence, descend on the community we have created here. The intensity of Ramah tefilot will overwhelm some. There will be conversations about Judaism in camp late into the night. Before we know it, camp will be here. Thank you to the Jewish Agency for Israel's (JAFI) Summer Shlichim Program for making this meaningful week such a success, and thank you specifically to all of those that work at JAFI in the Summer Shlichim Department for all of your hard work on our behalf and behalf of the entire Jewish People. Shabbat Shalom.

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