Adina’s Reflections on Her First Summer as Assistant Directorby Adina Allen

Since returning home from camp, I have been asked numerous times “So, how was camp?” by my friends and family. I pause for a second, not sure where to begin, but realize I need to start somewhere. I talk about the camp-wide moments: our Nivonim Yom Sport captains leading the entire camp, ensuring that the morning would be a huge success; or the energy and support that could be felt in the Beit Am (auditorium) during Bogrim’s phenomenal Fiddler on the Roof performance in the midst of an extended power outage in the camp. I quickly shift to talking about how incredible our staff was and what a joy it was to work with them, the many new friendships I saw form throughout the summer, and, finally, that smile on a camper’s face when she passed the swim test for the first time.

As the conversation has shifted away from camp and my summer, I find my thoughts drifting back to the scene of the first day of camp. That first afternoon was one of my favorite moments of the summer and was a perfect reminder I was in the right place and part of a loving and welcoming community. Cabins gathered together for the first time, playing name games, and learning new facts about one another. Campers played frisbee and caught up with friends they hadn’t seen in a year. I saw counselors engaging with and leading all of their campers, excited for their new roles after a meaningful staff week. Just a few hours after campers stepped off the busses, the kikar (central field) was transformed into the living room for hundreds of Ramahniks. Those conversations continued back in the tzrif (cabin) as cabins concluded the first day by setting the guidelines for living in a community together for the rest of the summer.

Ultimately in setting up the community, we try to strike the balance between each individual’s needs and the entire cabin’s needs. The transition for our campers from living together with family to sharing a cabin with 16 people begins with open dialogue and expectations articulated up front.

In parashat Ki Teitzei, we receive 74 mitzvot (commandments) governing such diverse legal areas as the return of lost objects, dress (tzitzit), marriage and divorce, and war. Taken as a whole, these laws describe building a community and the importance of striking the balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of the entire group.

The Rabbis teach that one of the most remarkable mitzvot appears in this parashah (portion),

שַׁלֵּחַ תְּשַׁלַּח אֶת-הָאֵם, וְאֶת-הַבָּנִים תִּקַּח-לָךְ, לְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ, וְהַאֲרַכְתָּ יָמִים.

You shall send away the mother bird, and then you may take the young for yourself. [Deut. 22:7].

The importance of bringing thoughtfulness to each of our actions and respecting even a bird whose eggs we are about to take is demonstrated through this simple act; and, as the text mentions, the fulfiller of this mitzvah is rewarded with a long life.  There is only one other mitzvah in the entire Torah for which the reward of long life is also promised:  honoring our own parents.

We are instructed immediately afterwards that when building new homes, we need to be cautious and build guardrails surrounding the roof. This reminds us that although we may know how to be careful in our own home, we must always be thinking about how to take care of the people around us.

In the next chapter, at the end of a section on vows, we read,

מוֹצָא שְׂפָתֶיךָ, תִּשְׁמֹר וְעָשִׂיתָ

Observe and do what is emitted from your lips [23:24].

Our words matter and the way we use them is important. This idea is central to the work we do at camp, and is especially important to remember as we begin this period of reflection leading up to Yom Kippur.

The reading of this week’s parashah comes in the middle of the month of Elul, when we as Jews are doing heshbon nefesh (searching our souls) and beginning to focus on our process of teshuvah (repetence) before the High Holy Days just a few weeks away. Just as we come together at the beginning of the summer to plan and navigate what our summer will look like, we as Jews engage in this process of personal reflection, improvement, and growth to guide us into the new year. As we head into the final stretch before Rosh Hashanah, I hope that each of you will take the time to regroup, reflect, and dream together with your family about what the next year will look like.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!