Rabbi Gita Karasov (Nivo 2004), is the Director of Admissions and Student Life at Hebrew College Rabbinical School. Gita is originally from Saint Louis Park, MN and currently lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband Dan and son Ravi.
by Rabbi Gita Karasov, Nivo 2004
Every week as Shabbat comes to a close we gather for Havdalah to mark the separation between the sacred and the mundane. Havdalah is a full sensory experience with a large flame, aromatic spices and an overflowing cup of wine. It is hard to beat the magic of a camp Havdalah experience. At camp we hold one another close as we breathe in those last precious moments of Shabbat together hoping to take a bit of the sacred into the coming week. Whether it is a conversation we had on a Shabbat walk, a new tune we learned at seudah shlishit singing, or the run on the baseball diamond, at Havdalah we recognize that although we are returning to the daily routine, we are bringing a glimmer of the Shabbat flame along with us.
Havdalah at camp was always extra special to me because in some ways camp represented my Shabbat of the year. Just as our tradition teaches that each day of the week exists for Shabbat, I felt like the 10 months of the year existed so that I could get to the peak and appreciate camp. But that also means that each year when camp came to a close I had to try my very hardest to take a piece of the sensory experience back home with me. I had to make the magic of eight weeks burn strong for 10 months.
For this reason, the final Havdalah of my Nivonim summer is one I will never forget. I was a camper who thought about this moment all summer. I was a bit dramatic about rituals. Between the person leading, the tune used, and the configuration of the circle, it had to be perfect so that this Havdalah could capture a moment that I could take back home with me. Finally, the moment arrived. My last Havdalah as a camper. There I was, standing in my perfect circle ready for the perfect Havdalah when suddenly a huge bug flew into our circle. Rather than swaying our way through the “yadai dai dais” the eidah broke up as one by one people started dodging the bug and erupting in laughter.
Sixteen years later I can still feel the way my body tensed up in frustration and disappointment as I watched this moment pass before my eyes. But when I reflect on my summers at Ramah, I’ve come to see that it is precisely moments such as these, the spontaneous and raw ones– that are the essence of camp. It is those experiences that even the most competent counselors could never have planned: the late night conversations, hiding out in a bunk during a sudden thunderstorm, or an impromptu game on the kikar before lunch. The laughter that erupted during my Havdalah bug invasion was just as core to that final Havdalah experience as the spices and candle. It imbued my memories with a special quality that could only be created under unique circumstances, with specific people, in real time.
While this was a hard moment for my 16 year old self, it is one of those moments that I think back to all the time. In the last few months, I – like everyone else – have felt the disappointment of plans upended and rituals reconfigured. But what amazes me is the amount of resilience I still draw upon from moments such as those at camp. The magic of camp, even years later, is that its lessons really do last far beyond the last Havdalah. Every time I need the courage to jump into a cold lake or get up early to watch the sunrise, I think of camp and take the plunge.
We can’t stay in Shabbat mode all of the time because our labors are needed to go out and create a more just and equitable world. This summer, it is more apparent than ever, just how much work there is to be done. But I am forever grateful that camp provided me with some of the best tools to do that work. Camp taught me the power of community, critical thinking, and of lifting up our collective voices in powerful ways, and those are gifts that we can leverage each and every day of our lives, even when the last embers of the Havdalah flame have gone out.