2016-07-06 / Religion Column

Camp brings our entire community together each summer

Congregation Beth Tikvah

Parashat Korach
Num. 16:1-18:32

All days at the JCC Camps at Medford are magical and special. Nothing though compares to the first day—in particular, on that first day, the first moments of that first day, when the first bus arrives to drop off the first group of smiling children. For me, that moment is not just magical and special, but a moment of complete transcendence; G-d is surely in this place. That first bus is followed in quick succession by about 40 more, and children from all over our area are led to their bunks, hand-in-hand, by counselors whom we, the senior staff, know that the campers will come to look up to and love. A few children are tentative, while most others are so bursting with excitement that they can barely contain it. The counselors are excited about being leaders and about getting their long-coveted name badges.

Before we know it, camp is happening all around us! Children are playing, making new friends, trying new activities for the first time, experimenting with independence, learning, sharing, and growing. Counselors are being strong Jewish leaders. It is a sight to behold; a sight that feels filled with the Divine presence.

There are many reasons to see camp as infused with the Divine. Perhaps it is that camp gives campers and staff an experience of authentic, lived, Jewish community. Perhaps it is the Jewish learning that is subtly infused into camp activities. Perhaps it is the presence of Israeli shlichim who come to teach about Eretz HaKodesh, Israel, our Holy Land. Yes, yes, yes, to all of these! More than that though, at camp we all become one united Jewish community.

Lines of denomination, affiliation, and synagogue fall away as campers and staff form one greater Kehila Kedosha, one greater Holy Community. This summer marks my third summer at camp. As a Jewish communal leader, what has been most transformative for me at camp has been seeing our community come together in unity in unabashed, joyous, Jewish expression. It is soul nourishing to be a part of for eight weeks each summer.

This week, we read Parashat Korach. In the Torah portion, Korach leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. For this, Korach and his followers receive a harsh punishment; the ground opens up and swallows them alive. There is much to be learned from the first words of the Parasha, and for this we will look at both Rashi and the Sefat Emet.

The portion opens with “Korach son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi separated himself…” (Num. 16:1). Rashi explains that this means, “he took himself off to one side to be separate from the assembly of Israel…” He was jealous of Moses and Aaron’s position and sought an elevated role for himself. Korach takes the action of making himself separate. The Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, writes on this verse that “this world is in fact called the ‘world of separation,’ one where each creature looks out for itself…What is any single human being that his deeds should be accepted above? It is only through the entire community of Israel that God’s will is fulfilled in this world. So everyone has to give his portion thoroughly over to the community. Once you do that, you see that there is no difference between you and your fellow.”

I begin my tenure as rabbi at Cong. Beth Tikvah in August, where I have served for many years as the rabbinic intern and director of education. While I surely have loving commitments to that shul in particular, I clearly see we are engaged in an enterprise much larger than just Beth Tikvah. We must, as the Sefat Emet teaches, “give our portion thoroughly over to community.”

Camp is the antidote to separation; camp brings all of us together for a united purpose. During the year, we go to Hebrew School at our respective congregations, we go to different schools during the day, we pray in our own sanctuaries. At camp, a counselor from Temple Beth Sholom or Adath Emanu- El may be the Jewish role model for a camper from M’kor Shalom or Beth El. Someone from Beth Tikvah or Temple Emanuel may work in the kitchen. Someone from Cong. B’nai Tikvah-Beth Israel or Temple Sinai may be a lifeguard. Someone from Ner Tamid or Har Zion may be the division head. None of it matters, as we are all engaged in being one camp, brought together with “no difference between you and your fellow.”

This is part of the magic of the JCC Camps at Medford. The Sefat Emet teaches that “everyone has to give his portion thoroughly over to the community.” May it be G-d’s will that camp continues to inspire us all to be one, bringing our community to even higher heights. s

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