Thursday, August 14, 2014

Parashat Ekev- Put These Words Upon Your Heart- Go To Jewish Summer Camp


V’samtem et-d’varai eileh al-l’vavkhem v’al-nafsh’khem ukshartem otam l’ot al-yedkhem v’hayu l’totafot bein eiyneikhem. V’limadtem otam et-b’neiykhem l’dabeir bam b’shiv’t’kha b’veitekha uv’lekh’t’kha vaderekh uv’shakh’b’kha uv’kumekha. Ukhtavtam al-m’zuzot beitekha uvish’arekha.
And you will put these My words upon your heart and upon your soul, and you will bind them as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes. And you will teach them to your children; recite them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you will write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (D’varim 11:18-20)
Rav Sean and I have just returned from teaching at Ramah. For almost two weeks, we went to work in shorts. We sat on the ground. We ate in a loud, crowded dining hall. We swam; we boated; we walked the running path. We created Torah lessons involving crayons, markers, and ice cream. For almost two weeks we walked the camp’s grounds. We woke up each morning. I stumbled, Rav Sean walked, to morning t’fillot (I am not a morning person). We donned our t’fillin. We spoke with staff and with campers. We had snack. We said private brachot in the earshot of staff and campers. We sat in the library. We sat in the education office. We sponsored a kiddush for our children’s eidot. It’s the most rabbinic work we do all year.
This list may not sound rabbinic. Swimming? Boating? Snack? But to be a rabbi is to lead by example. Ramah camps are attended by over 6,500 teens around the world each summer, not to mention the thousands of staff. Studies show Jewish summer camps have significant impact on the Jewish community. Specifically, Ramah graduates are three times more likely to date only Jews. They are four times more likely to attend synagogue services, and three times more likely than the general Jewish population to spend significant time in Israel. The Jewish Agency for Israel refers to Ramah as “a lifestyle.” From this lifestyle come the best of our future leaders. For 4-9 weeks children, teens, and adults live a positive, enjoyable, inspirational Jewish life where being a Jewish leader is cool, and we are part of that.
As rabbis, we are usually called upon to lead from the front, standing upon bamot, speaking at events, writing articles and letters. We meet with congregants and community members about personal issues. We plan for holidays. We lead rituals.  But most importantly we lead by live joyful, observant Jewish lives. Every day we wear the words of the Torah on our hearts and our arms. We wear them on our faces. They are in every word we say. They are posted on our doors and on our walls. Rabbinic work is to teach others to live lives of Torah and joy in Judaism. Even more so than when we are in synagogue, we teach this when you see us at Home Depot. We teach this when we are at the Superstore. We teach this when we walk upon the road and when we sit together. We teach this in canoes and kayaks and on the soccer field. We teach this through living to support our current Jewish leaders and those of tomorrow.