Every Person Has a Name
The building blocks of creating community begin with names. This is true for camp and for life in general.
The first days of camp are filled with learning new names. Chanichim (campers) learn the names of new friends. Madrichim (counselors) learn the names of chanichim. Roshei Aidah (division heads) learn the names of all of the chanichim in the aidah. Specialty and education counselors, as well as department heads, learn the names of all the campers they see during the day. Every person has a name with a meaning.
Walking around camp on arrival day, I saw circles of happy young campers playing name games. Their madrichim created all kinds of fun, silly, energetic games to help campers meet one another, learn names and make first friendships. These games build strong esprit d’corps in the tzrif (cabin) and make it a safe place for everyone to be himself or herself, to belong and to feel included. Every person has a name they like to be called. Now, for the first time, they get to choose what name they want to be known by in camp.
During these first days of camp, the limudei Yahadut (Jewish learning) staff, led by our new, fantastic rosh, Tamar Cytryn, initiated a creative program for campers to learn about their own names. Based on a work by the Hebrew poet, Zelda, the new program is titled, “L’kol ish yesh shem,” “Every Person Has a Name” (Hebrew and English versions of the poem appear at the end of this letter). Over these first days, campers are discussing BIG, name-related questions. Big questions, in distinction to hard questions, are those that lead to conversation and storytelling; require no expertise in order to join the conversation; and have no right answer. Some of the questions campers are thinking about during Yahadut classes at the start of camp include:
What is the meaning of your birth name?
How did you get that name?
How does a person “earn” a name?
Are there names that you are called that you really like? Strongly dislike?
By what name do you want to be known this summer?
What name do you want to earn for yourself this summer? What kind of person will you need to be in order to earn that name?
Today, when campers met in their limmudei yahadut classes, they created name collages that will become large murals in their chadarei ochel (dining halls). I have not yet seen the paper quilts they are creating but I know that they will be incredible to examine. On the wall, we will see the initial ways that campers view themselves at the start of the summer. We will see images of how they want to contribute to the camp community. We will see in pictures and words their personal goals for the summer.
On Friday of each week during limmudei Yahadut, campers will engage in what we call Cheshbon Nefesh, personal reckoning or accounting. They will think about how they did the previous week in achieving their goals, whether or not the person they were during the week matched up with the person they wanted to be, and they will create a new paper image of the name they want to earn for the quilt. At the end of the summer, I believe we will see a magnificent quilt of personal reflection and achievement, of growth and soulful beauty, of the reflection of God’s image in each member of the Camp Ramah in Wisconsin community.
The beginning of our parashah, Shlach Lekha, deals with names, some infamous and some famous. The opening narrative is about the spies that Moshe sends to investigate the Promised Land. Most of the names become infamous because they are spies who return, present a beautiful image of the land, and an incredibly pessimistic outlook about the ability of the Israelites to conquer the land. Only two spies, Joshua and Caleb, become famous in a positive way for they represent the opinion that the Israelites, with God’s help, will conquer the land of Israel. The Torah does not tell us anything about the mindset of the spies as they set out on their mission. The Zohar speculates that the princes were concerned about their own standing in the future, that they would be replaced once the land was conquered, so they came back with a negative report in order to preserve their own power. The Midrash HaGadol believes that Joshua and Caleb did not travel together with the other spies because they believed from the outset that the mission was achievable and did not need to see the land at all. Regardless of their goals for the week, all but two of the spies ended their trip with negative names. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, came out of the experience viewed as better people.
The concept of doing a weekly Cheshbon Nefesh, taking a weekly reckoning of the names that we earned and the names we want to earn, is a process that all of us can and should do. As our children are thinking about what names the want to be known by at camp, Hannah the Brave, David the Kind, etc, we can do that for ourselves. We can ask our children at home what names they want to earn in the coming week, and, at the end of the summer, we can ask our children what names they hoped to acquire during the summer and hear the stories of their achieving success.
The opening of camp has been fantastic and I look forward to reporting to you each week about all the happenings up here on beautiful Lake Buckatabon. For updates in between these weekly letters, please be sure to follow our blog and our twitter feeds.
Rabbi Loren Sykes