Dispatches from Camp George
One of the many pleasures of being a rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple is the opportunity to be on faculty for a week every summer at URJ Camp George, our Reform camp near Parry Sound. I have written before about how Jewish camps are holistic Jewish communities that give the campers and staff immersive Jewish experiences. Research has shown that kids who spend time at Jewish overnight camps have higher rates of Jewish involvement as adults. For this column, I would like to write about my research from these last few days. Well, not exactly research, more like observations. As I am starting to focus on the upcoming High Holy Days, this is what I have learned from campers at Camp George that is going to inform how I, and all of us, can approach the season.
Relationships are hard and Repentance and Reconciliation is healing.
Living in a cabin with others is intense. Squabbles, arguments, hurt feelings happen, but I am amazed how kids can look past that and reconcile because they intuit that this is what is needed for everyone to have a good experience. This is the same for families, communities, and societies. We hurt others and get hurt by others because we are human. This is why God created teshuvah—repentance, return—before the first day of Creation. The High Holy Days remind us that we must always reflect on our behaviour towards others and help others on the path of goodness.
Enthusiasm for life is refreshing.
We live in a cynical age. Our cynicism can be remedied by spending time with campers at the morning mifkad (gathering). Every morning at Camp George, the campers gather around the flagpole to thank God for the morning, stretch, sing the national anthems, and enthusiastically start their days. How different would our days be if we started them with enthusiastic gratitude for being alive? The High Holy Days remind us that we have made it another year, let’s make the most of it.
Living with Awe is essential.
Yesterday I was leading a group of eight-year-olds in a program about appreciating trees. We learned the blessing for experiencing the wonder of nature: Blessed are You, Adonai our God, that such things are in your world. The kids talked about feeling the sense of being a part of Creation. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…[to] get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal, everything is incredible, never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
I pray that the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, open our eyes to this wonder. This wonder that heals and gives our lives meaning.