Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Ari Weinstein. Ari was a camper at Ramah Wisconsin for six summers and a staff member for an additional six summers. He is proud to have been part of the group of staff that organized the Kehilla Ge’ah program for the LGBTQ+ campers and staff community at Ramah Wisconsin. He currently lives in St. Louis Park, MN.
Reflections on Shabbat Shuvah
by Ari Weinstein
In a year of newness and unfamiliarity, I’ve heard countless comments wishing that we “return to normal.” These wishes are born from a year of separateness, social distancing, and a summer away from Camp Ramah. Why wouldn’t we want to have everything return to how it was before
COVID-19 has made for a stressful year, and I’m still really bummed that I didn’t get to spend kayitz (summer) 2020 on the kikar. Through all the toughness, I think there is an importance that we learn from everything painful we experienced in the year 5780, reflect upon what we and our communities can do better, and build a brighter, kinder, healthier world in 5781.
This week we commemorate Shabbat Shuvah (the Shabbat of Return) between our celebration of Rosh Hashanah and observance of Yom Kippur. This Shabbat’s special name comes from its Haftarah, which calls on us to return to God upon atoning for the indecencies of our sins (Hosea 14:2). Shabbat Shuvah is an opportunity for our deepest, most heartfelt t’shuvah, or repentance. When we repent for things we did wrong in the past year, we don’t just say “sorry” and move on thoughtlessly. Rather, we internalize any hurt we may have caused, find a way to mend relationships, and do better in the future.
In the context of this year, my hope is that our t’shuvah will be informed by collective wrongdoings that have risen to the surface this year. Our t’shuvah can be inspired by the wildfires and superstorms that call our attention to climate justice and finding ways to treat the earth with more kindness. Our t’shuvah can find purpose in bearing witness to the murders and disproportionate disenfranchisement of Black Americans, Indigenous Americans and other people of color (BIPOC). Bearing witness reminds us what we, unfortunately, need to be reminded of: that BIPOC lives matter and we must act accordingly. Our t’shuvah can be compelled by a desire to treat essential workers with more patience and compassion after we’ve seen the importance of their hard work during COVID-19. I also think we can dig deep and think about how we’ve behaved this year: what would we like to keep about ourselves in 5781? How can we grow to incorporate more love and kindness into our day-to-day lives?
The Haftarah reading for Shabbat Shuvah ends with the comment that the paths of God are smooth and straightforward (‘כי-ישרים דרכי ה) and that righteous people will traverse them with ease (Hosea 14:10). I hope that Shabbat Shuvah illuminates clear paths toward justice, thoughtfulness, and returning to the best parts of ourselves through t’shuvah – and that in 5781, chanichim (campers) and chavrei tzevet (staff members) will be able to follow those paths of righteousness back to the Kikar.
Shanah tovah and g’mar chatimah tovah,