Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Adam Schrag, Rosh Kochavim and Garinim 2017. Adam was born in Jerusalem and grew up in the Chicago area. Last fall, he lived in Tel Aviv and worked as a travel writer before graduating from Knox College with a degree in Creative Writing in the spring. He currently works as a medical writer in downtown Chicago. A native of Chicago and a lifelong Ramahnik who attended both the Ramah Day Camp and Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, this is Adam’s sixth summer on staff. Reflections on Parashat Bamidbar by Adam Schrag
With the first day of camp just around the corner, I’d like to turn your attention to the end of the summer. Visualize a camper’s last day of camp: The cabin is almost clean and empty. Friends sit on the mirpeset (porch) writing each other personal notes to read on the bus, drag their bags to the parking lot, pick up projects from omanut (art) and check the lost and found one last time before starting to work on the cabin plaques that will sum up their summer and hang in perpetuity on their cabin’s walls. At night, all of camp gathers in the Beit Am for the final time. In the morning, campers hop on the bus soon after the sun rises.
You may wonder why it’s worth thinking about the end of the summer before considering what the beginning (and middle) might have in store.
Parashat B’midbar offers a fitting response, emphasizing that growth necessitates endings. We can’t develop and progress if we refuse to confront endings insightfully and constructively. This refusal stunts our ability to learn, improve and succeed.
As Parashat B’midbar tells us, B’nai Yisrael dealt with endings frequently during their forty years in the desert. Near the parashah’s beginning, the Levi’im are instructed to disassemble the people’s mishkan, or sanctuary, and transport it with them each time they continue their wandering. Then, after arriving at their next encampment, the Levi’im are responsible for reconstructing the mishkan in the center of the camp.
This seemingly minor and undoubtedly monotonous task actually sets the stage for the people’s success. Each time the Israelites left an encampment during their forty years of wandering, they prioritized disassembling, transporting and reconstructing the centerpiece of their shared lives and culture — a process that ultimately allowed them to arrive in Canaan a much more enriched, strengthened and united people. The way they wrapped up their time at each encampment ultimately helped them reflect, change and open new doors throughout their journey.
Similarly, Ramah’s 2017 season will not be a standalone experience. We’ll arrive at a physical space that was essentially taken apart last August and feel renewed, thanks to the events and personal developments that have changed us over the course of the year. Our experiences from previous summers have been disassembled, restructured, experimented with, considered and changed. We’ll be able to use our new skills, new interests and new memories to enrich the lives around us.
In order to truly gain value from our experiences, it’s essential to view the summer season as a cycle; one which temporarily concludes in August with our physical departure from Conover and prompts us to apply our new experiences to life at home before returning in June to re-apply and gain valuable experiences once again.
We improve our skills and abilities to apply meaningful lessons from one space to another, honing them throughout the year until the next summer arrives and we have a chance to physically rebuild everything we care about in the physical camp space. This is where we see the world through different eyes than two camp classics – Disney’s “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King and Joni Mitchell’s campfire classic “The Circle Game.” The rhythms of the natural world deceive us into thinking that things are circular; they are, in fact, spiraled. Each time we return again to summer, or experience a new birth in the family, we find ourselves different than the last returning. Each beginning is different.
Reflecting back on last summer: how did it change you? How did a lesson or moment from Ramah last summer enrich your life at home? Or, for new campers, how did you grow in some way this school year that makes coming to camp this summer different than had you started last year? What will we all bring to camp as we board the bus in a few weeks that makes 2017 unique as, inevitably, spring turns to summer, the lake warms, we begin preparing for the Zimriyah (song festival) and Yom Sport, dancing returns to the Kikar on Friday afternoons, and we make new friends and have, yet again, the best summer of our lives?
The challenge, for all of us, is to consider the experiences that shape us most as we prepare to arrive at camp in the coming weeks; evaluating the changes we underwent since last summer’s conclusion and how those changes may be transmitted to the camp community so we may continue to foster its spiraled, creative nature.