Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from our Arts Director, Jon Adam Ross (JAR) , who we are excited to welcome back to camp this summer for his 15th season on staff. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, JAR is an actor, writer, Jewish educator and a founding member of STorahtelling and the Northwoods Ramah Theatre Company. JAR works as a consultant and faculty member for the iCenter, Foundation for Jewish Camp, and National Ramah Commission. Originally from Memphis, JAR lives in Manhattan with his wife, Jen Pehr. For more about JAR, check out his website: http://jonadamross.com/.
“Hurry Up and Wait” Parshat Bo – by Jon Adam Ross
A few weeks ago in this space, Jacob Cytryn described Ramah in the context of the Jewish calendar. How Chanukah is a turning point from camper recruitment to staff training and preparation. Indeed, the full time staff of Camp Ramah is always thinking ahead. From September to May, the thoughts are all about the next Summer season up in Conover and how it can be an even more successful summer for our campers and staff than the one before. But once the campers arrive, the camp community becomes one that dwells in the now; “Carpe Diem” is right up there with “Everyone’s a Winner at Machaneh Ramah” and “והסנה אננו אוכל” (“And the bush was not consumed.”). One of the luxuries of all the hours of thoughtful planning that happens before the summer is that, come June, there is room for everyone to just have fun and enjoy every moment at camp. Campers and their families do a lot of planning preparation as well, from shopping for toiletries to packing and repacking duffel bags to pre-stamping their pre-addressed envelopes in the hope for letters home. Reading this week’s parsha, Parshat Bo, got me thinking about all this preparation.
The Israelites are in a tough spot. Not only are they slaves in Egypt, but there’s this leader named Moses who keeps advising them to pack their bags and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And nine times now, the Israelites have been forced to play a frustrating game of green light/red light; after each of the plagues, Pharaoh has relented in the face of God’s wrath, and then instantly reversed himself. It’s hard to plan for the future when you don’t know when the future will come. The Israelites are forced to live constantly in the moment. So much so, that when they finally do get to escape after the tenth and final plague, they do not even have time to let their bread rise and we get an entire delicious week free of chametz. But I noticed an obscure pasuk in this week’s parsha that puts all of this planning and living into perspective.
This month shall be unto you the beginning of months;
it shall be the first month of the year to you. (Shemot Chapt 12, Verse 2)
It seems that God recognizes that the back and forth of the ten plagues might have planted the seeds for anxiety within the Israelites. I know…shocking. My neuroses goes all the way back to the Israelites in Egypt!? And here, all this time, I thought I inherited my anxiety from my Grandpa Marshall. God chooses this moment to talk about the calendar. How this month of Nisan is now a ‘first month of the year’, a new and fresh start for a people desperately in need of a clean slate. I often felt it jarring to hear this story of Pesach read aloud each winter, so many months before I celebrate the seders with my family. But now it makes perfect sense to me. We just experienced the turning of a new year in the Roman calendar. And here we are learning about not just a new year in the Jewish calendar, but a new start for our people as they take steps toward freedom.
One can imagine the Israelites finally packing their belongings, loading bags on the backs of their camels. Our people were packing for what would turn out to be a 40 year journey in bags that, no doubt weighed about the same as some of the duffels that accompany campers on their pilgrimage to Conover, Wisconsin. And one can imagine, just as in the face of a camper about to head up to camp for the first, or second, or last time as a camper, these Israelites…with one eye on the packing, and one eye on the future. A future when planning takes a backseat to living.
May this Shabbat be a wonderful shabbat for you and your families. You may start packing now.