by Jacob Cytryn, Executive Director

On Tuesday evening, having welcomed our inspiring and energetic group of Roshei Eidah (division heads) to camp, we affixed a mezuzah to our new Merkaz Tarbut (Cultural Center) and said the shehecheyanu blessing.  That blessing is said over “true firsts,” like wearing an article of clothing for the first time, and “repeated firsts,” like when we light the candles on the first night of Chanukkah every year.  The dozen of us standing there, surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Northwoods, felt the blessing even more acutely as we celebrated not only a “true first” of a new building and a “repeated first” of the annual rebuilding of our sacred community of summer memories at camp, but also the pent up anticipation we share with thousands of other Ramahniks in what it means to return to camp after missing the 2020 summer.  We felt the loss of 2020 and the promise of 2021 acutely, even as we enjoyed beneath our feet an extra-thick carpet of bright green grass.

In this week’s Torah reading, Shelach l’cha, we read the story of the spies sent to reconnoiter the Promised Land.  Famously, ten of the spies return scared out of their wits and convinced that the inhabitants of the land will destroy the Israelites.  God gets angry and is ready to destroy the people.  Moses intercedes, echoing the same language he used in the wake of the Golden Calf when God’s anger threatened the future of the Israelite nation.  

At this moment in the narrative we read Moses’ final plea to God, and God’s response, which I choose to read as resigned and sad, the short, exhaled acknowledgment of an exhausted parent.  God says:  סלחתי כדברך – “I forgive them, as you have asked.”

Generations ago, this plea by Moses and God’s response entered into our liturgy immediately after the Kol Nidre prayer.  It is, along with Moses’ prayer to God after the Golden Calf, a core text of s’lichot, prayers for forgiveness.  In the midst of Kol Nidre, however, is also a prayer of resolve – that in spite of all that we have done, and all that we have traversed over the last year, we stand here to bear witness that we have lived.

The only time we as a community say the Shehecheyanu blessing together is at this moment during Kol Nidre, a moment of loss and reflection, promise and hope.  We thank God at that moment for allowing us to live, to endure, and to arrive at the present moment.  A moment like the one our veteran staff are experiencing right now, before turning our full unbridled energies to the phenomenal newness and excitement of the 2021 summer.

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This summer will be filled with exuberant shehecheyanu moments throughout camp – for the more than 150 campers we welcome for the first time, for the campers who missed out on memories and joy last summer and are looking to have double the fun this year, for our camp community to embrace the realities of running camp during a pandemic, for hundreds of parents and guardians sending their children away for personal development and friendship-building for the first time in nearly a year-and-a-half.  As we welcome our staff this coming Tuesday, we will again remind ourselves – shehecheyanu.  And when we welcome our campers on June 15, we will do so again.

Here’s to a summer of shehecheyanuL’chaim.

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