Camp Moments of Joy
By Shalom Orzach

Yakar or Yikarah can be understood as dear or, more poignantly, priceless! Joy. Growth. Inclusion. Connection.  .אושר. מיחה. שילוב. קשרים – these are the core Ramah values that are beyond measure. They conjure the opening mishnah in Tractate Pe’ah, recited at the beginning of our morning prayers:

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם שִׁעוּר
These are the values that have no measure…

Joy is incessant at camp. For me it exemplifies the ideal of וְהָיִ֖יתָ אַ֥ךְ שָׂמֵֽחַ – “and you shall be exceptionally happy.” This expression in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) to portray the joy of Sukkot may appear to be a directive but it is in fact more, an outcome. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

Among the countless moments of joy I experienced at camp was the ability to connect with the participants in the Atzmayim Vocational Program. Watching their growth, joy, community and independence was profoundly moving for me as we interacted and connected on a daily basis throughout the summer. The gift to get to know all campers and staff, especially with the added layers of meaning and challenge last summer, was particularly special.

Like many of the staff, I helped in the humbling operation of meal times. Serving food – and food for thought – was a wonderful way to continuously encounter the community, touch base, inquire how they are doing and most importantly, see them, make that connection. 

Of course camp is about joyous spontaneity too. Many of us would gather regularly to watch the stunning sunsets over the lake. We became a welcoming kehillah, a community initially called “Get to the Point” as that is where we met, but one that evolved into “The Sunset Club.” We would share reflections, texts, and goals for the coming days. The conversations and the sheer beauty of those experiences continue to resonate and nourish year round. They afford the ability to genuinely renew in a daily fashion Ma’asei Bereishit, the wonders and acts of creation. To celebrate what may appear ordinary by experiencing the extraordinary.

Shalom is a senior educator with The iCenter, and serves on faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. This summer at camp, he will be Director of Israel Culture. Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director for the training of staff returning to summer camps in North America, and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He is a member of the International Education Committee of Taglit-Birthright, has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation, New York Federation and JUF Ta’am Yisrael – IsraelNow. Shalom was the Central Shaliach for USY. He was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, following which he was the Executive Director for Jewish Renewal at the UJIA in England. Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He recently served as a month-long scholar for United Synagogue in Chicago and at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York. He has published articles on Israel and Jewish education in The Times of Israel and eJewishPhilanthropy, and delivered an ELI Talk.

Shalom is still in awe of the fact that we can speak about the ‘State’ of the Jews! He is the son of a Holocaust survivor who grew up in the company of aunts and uncles of the closest type albeit not family. Their experiences, Yiddish banter, humor and optimism very much shaped who he is.