Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Aviva Schwartz, Rosh Nivonim 2015.  Aviva is graduating this May from Clark University in Worcester, MA, with a degree in International Development and Social Change with a concentration in Race and Ethnic Relations; she will continue at Clark next fall towards an M.A. in Community Development and Planning.  Aviva returns to us for her sixth summer on staff after being Rosh Solelim last summer.  Over winter break, she went as Ramah Wisconsin’s representative on a National Ramah delegation to a Conservative synagogue and summer camp in Chile.  Reflections on Parashat Vayakel-Pekudei by Aviva Schwartz

People talk about the uniqueness of the first hours of camp. That moment the bus turns left on Buckatabon Road and your stomach churns with excitement. Being together with your camp friends for the first time in 10 months. Meeting or reconnecting with your counselors and reacquainting yourself with the camp we all know and love. Those initial moments of arriving at camp will forever be ingrained in our minds.

But it’s the next five hours that help to really define the summer. Whose bed is where? Where is the Nikayon chart (the wheel of daily chores) going to go? How will the cabin be decorated? Where can I put my rug? Which counselor made the Bruchot Habaot (welcome) sign on the door? What are the tzrif (cabin) rules that we will make together in order to ensure everyone has a safe, comfortable, and amazing summer together? What are our goals and challenges for the summer? Will we have a theme or cabin song?

The answers to these questions are some of the ways that we make the space sacred and that we make camp into Machaneh Ramah. The counselors arrive in camp a week before the campers in order to prepare for the summer and set up the cabins. They make sure that there are enough beds and shelves for each camper and a healthy amount of open space in the cabin for activities. They set the tone and lead the campers much like Bezalel, the architect behind the building of the tabernacle in our Parshiot this week.

This week, in the double portion of Vayakel-Pekudei, we are finally able to finish the tabernacle! Bezalel and Moses work to empower B’nei Israel to fulfill their roles in the building of this large project. Without them, the tabernacle cannot be a place for G-d. The Israelites were so excited by the instructions, that they brought kol nediv libo (offerings of the heart), which resulted in an over-abundance of the needed materials to build the Mishkan. This outpouring of generosity is the Israelites’ way of dedicated themselves to the building of the Mishkan so that God may dwell among them.

When staff week ends and the designs for the summer are set in place, it is time for the campers to come and give kol nediv libo to their eidot and cabins. Each camper adds something different and special to the cabin, making a special space out of a cabin that was empty just one week before. Together their material contributions (pictures, stuffed animals, sports equipment and blankets) as well as their generous qualities and talents come together to make their summer dwelling place one where God can dwell, one where a sacred community can thrive.

Our lessons do not end there. Fast forward 7 weeks and 6 days, and we reach the final Sunday of camp. The day when we spend hours packing, cleaning, and enjoying the final moments in the sacred spaces that we created during the past two months. We remove the decorations from the walls, rugs from the floor, and the clothes from the shelves. The Israelites took great care of the Mishkan during deconstruction because they knew after they finished traveling they would be setting it up once more.  We too take care to clean the cabins and ensure that they are ready for the following summer.

Just as B’nei Yisrael took the Mishkan on their journey throughout the desert, we too take the sacredness with us as we leave camp. It may be a little bit harder for us because we travel to different places, unlike the Israelites who journeyed together. We are lucky to be a part of such a strong and committed community, much the way the Israelites were as they worked to build their sacred community.