Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Diane Kushnir Halivni. Diane spent 4 summers as a camper (Nivo ’86), 3 on staff, and served as a Rosh Aidah in 1993. She is married to Shai, a Ramah Berkshires alumnus, who enjoyed all of his childhood summers there, and spent his staff years on the Wingdale waterfront. Their children, Avidan (Nivo ’12), Hadar (Nivo ’16) and Eliana (Nivo ’21) have Ramah deep in their DNA.
Diane currently works as Coordinator of Community Education and Support at JCFS Chicago, and as a mentor in The iFellows graduate program through The iCenter.
Being Our Best Selves: Reflections on Parashat Chayei Sarah
by Diane Halivni
A few weeks ago, some camp friends and I hopped on a Zoom call, in place of a reunion we had planned in honor of our 50th birthdays. Within minutes we were past the small talk and our conversation became full of anecdotes about managing life’s ups and downs during the pandemic. Reminiscent of our late-night talks as teenagers on our cabin mirpeset (porch) every summer, the conversation flowed from one friend to the next, with each sharing, listening and empathizing. There were some big belly laughs too, softening the intensity of our two and a half hour catch-up! It is with our camp friends, we concluded, that we can be our whole selves. Still.
This week’s parashah, Chayei Sarah, often catches me off-guard and leaves me a bit unsettled. Who was Sarah, ultimately, and what happened to her at the end of her life?
While Sarah gets a gentle nod for her role in the Abrahamic tradition by naming her in the title of the parashah, we must also notice that the text never records Sarah’s feelings since sending Hagar away. Also, one might expect to hear how everyone was doing in the aftermath of the harrowing, near-death experience of her only son, and yet nothing is written!
So what do we remember about Sarah? We know that Sarah’s outward facing personality includes being a dutiful wife to an emerging leader, instant hostess to guests who show up unannounced, and a meshugene washerwoman who cleans up everyone’s mess. From very brief narratives we learn she also struggled emotionally— with infertility, jealousy, and a weariness, befitting someone of her ‘advanced maternal age’.
To whom could Sarah turn for conversation and support, especially after the risky and tumultuous chapter of the akeidah (binding of Isaac)? The Torah does not tell us.
Perhaps in the absence of any record of Sarah’s wellness check, we can each take a few minutes this week to reconnect with an old friend, or call someone and inquire about their well-being. And just listen. Offer to follow up and stay in touch. As our daylight hours narrow, our capacity to offer supportive check-ins must widen, especially in the dark winter months of the Midwest.
We can only hope that Sarah had something akin to camp friends, a sisterhood of love and trust on the campgrounds of Canaan, developed over the years, with whom she could talk for hours, ask for help if she needed, authenticating self-awareness, and physical, spiritual and emotional sustenance.
Camp Ramah has always taught its campers and staff, former and current, values like listening, empathy, respecting another’s viewpoint and caring for the well-being of others. This messy washerwoman is grateful for her cadre of camp sisters and brothers, with whom she is her authentic self, and for the opportunities her children have to live their values at Camp Ramah and beyond.
(For a fuller account of the Biblical Sarah, please read the late Professor Tikvah Frymer Kensky’s account HERE at Jewish Women’s Archive).