Kol Yisrael: A Seder with All of the Senses
by Rabbi Josh Warshawsky

I met my new dentist for the first time last week. We got to schmoozing before he looked at my teeth and he said, “I went to camp up in Northern Wisconsin.” And I said, “I also went to camp up in Northern Wisconsin!” Which camp? Camp Ramah in Wisconsin! We swapped some memories and I could feel how excited he was to be able to reminisce about his time in the Northwoods – the lifelong friendships he had, the memories and Jewish experiences he held with him. And as we talked about these stories it was almost like he was having the opportunity to relive them for the first time in a long time. I guess I’ll keep my new dentist!  🙂

Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is one of the places in the world where I feel like Judaism comes alive in the most wonderful ways. We often talk about how it is fully immersive, and Judaism and Hebrew permeate everywhere at camp.  Baseball is Jewish – the ump shouts “כדור (kadur, ball)!” and “יוצא (yotzei, you’re out)!” The plays are all in Hebrew. The locations are in Hebrew – the lake is the אגם (agam) and the central gathering place is the כיכר (Kikar). Walking through camp, Judaism lights up all of your senses – you see Hebrew on the walls, hear it being spoken, touch a mezuzah on every door, smell and taste the challahs and Israeli food cooking in the מטבחון (mitbachon, teaching kitchen). 

Being at camp and understanding camp means looking at the world through Jewish lenses, and allowing our Judaism to inform and impact everything we do as we walk through the world. 

In many ways, Passover functions in a similar way. The holiday isn’t just about remembering what happened to us – we act, point, touch – use all the senses, and we explicitly name all of the things we are doing and are supposed to be feeling. We touch the matzah, wash our hands, dip our finger in the wine to represent the loss of the plagues. We touch and point to the matzah and maror and Passover sacrifice (shank bone). We smell the charoset, hear our children recite the Mah Nishtanah and retell the story, and taste the bitterness of our tears and the sweetness of the charoset

This lived experience is essential to the beauty of this holiday and is an essential core of what makes camp so special. We are so much more invested when we feel like we are a part of something. And now more than ever we need to be reminded we are not alone and that through it all, we can persevere and we will overcome.

So this year at your seder, how will you make it tangible for those with whom you’ve gathered? How will you live the tears and the sorrow, the triumph and the salvation and make it matter even more this year? 

Wishing you a seder עם כל החושים (im kol hachushim), a seder with all of the senses.

Rabbi Josh Warshawsky is the Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in Columbus, OH. This will be his 23rd summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin! For more info see www.joshwarshawsky.com