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Shabbat D'varim at Camp

07/16/2021 02:27:17 PM


Katherine Schwartz

This Shabbat we read from the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy. While the later chapters are full of the high drama of Moses’ death, this week’s portion, D’varim, is part of a recap of the Israelites 40 years of wandering in the desert. The book opens with “These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan.”  The Israelites must be reminded of their journey as they prepare to enter into the promised land. As the 4-week chanichim (campers) are preparing to come home, they too need to be reminded of the journey they have been on during their weeks at camp.  As segel  (faculty) in Moshavah, our chanichim literally have been on journeys: canoeing, hiking, and biking in the Wisconsin wilderness.  But just as for the Israelites, it wasn’t only about what they saw and did along the way, it was about who they became.  

When asked to recap their journeys, these Moshavah campers spoke of the beauty of the teva (nature) around them, but also of how they learned to advocate for themselves, to support their friends and to persevere even when they were tired and didn’t think they could walk, paddle or bike one more mile.  They spoke of someone on their tiyul  (trip) cheering them on, relieving them of carrying the heavy group water; or of counselors believing in them or singing songs to distract them from the hard moments.  In the same way that Moses knew that his words were essential for the Israelites, Moshavah chanichim realized that their verbalization of their experiences could bring inspiration to the entire eidah (unit). This individual and collective growth is the magic of camp. 

All across camp, this magic has been intensified by the chanichim studying middot, (Jewish values or norms). Moshavah chanichim recounted how during their time on and off camp they practiced kavod (respect) by honoring your canoe partner’s need to take a paddling break, even when you were anxious to keep going; or honoring your own body by drinking enough water while hiking. But they also spoke of deeper moments that can only happen in the intense experience that is camp: gratitude for counselors encouraging them to respect themselves by having body positivity; and learning how to practice chesed  (kindness) while living in a tent (or cabin) with 14 other campers after a year of isolation. They practiced ometz (perseverance) by making it to the end of the river quickly to beat a storm, not allowing their anxiety to overcome their trip experience; or expressing pride in completing a bike trip with little skill or experience.  

They found an inner strength and confidence that could only come from this time away, off screens and, in their words, not being caught up in taking photos for Snapchat or trying to be someone else to fit in. Through their practice of derech eretz (community mindedness), they created a time and space when they could be themselves and live in the moment that has been so absent in the last year and a half of their lives. This is the magic of camp: not just in Moshavah but all across OSRUI. This summer, these are the devarim  (the words), of which our Torah reminds us. Our camp community has been on an epic journey back to themselves and to their community.  This is the camp magic we will take into our final Shabbat and the journey home.

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyar 5784