239,128 steps and 111.1 miles logged over the past month. Those are my recorded steps and miles walked at Camp Ramah Darom over the second session while I worked as a rabbi on the staff. This was our second year on staff at Camp Ramah Darom and I must say without any hesitations that we truly love Camp and the people that are there. I have put together a non-exhaustive list of the things I did this summer at camp:
- Schlepped luggage.
- Unpacked campers.
- Packed campers.
- Picked up trash.
- Planed wood.
- Held items in place.
- Scooped ice cream.
- Served food.
- Cleaned dishes.
- Read Torah at the last minute.
- Sorted lost and found.
- Sat on shmirah.
- Fetched ice.
- Told stories.
- Collected books.
- Given out books.
- Delivered mail.
- Made copies.
- Taught classes.
- Taped down markers for plays.
- Rowed boats to taxi staff.
- Did a wedding (fear not… they are not really married).
- Moved luggage out of the rain.
- Visited the sick.
- Cooked for a staff event.
- Taxied people in golf carts.
- Played some drums.
- Listened to campers.
- Listened to staff members.
- Used my title.
- Didn’t use my title.
- Climbed the odyssey with a cabin of campers.
- Assisted in teaching archery (I was learning myself).
- Helped people read Torah for their first or second times.
- Read eicha.
- Led services.
- Walked around in t-shirts and shorts.
- Tied tzitzit with a girls’ bunk.
- Built a Lego western wall.
- Assisted campers to their places at services and programs.
- Served as an assistant coach for a basketball game. (I know nothing of basketball).
- Played in the staff hockey game.
- Attended classes taught by colleagues.
- Gave out lots of candy.
- Did magic tricks.
- Drove staff cars back from a satellite parking lot on move-in day.
- Slept a little.
- Worked a lot.
- Had the experience of a lifetime!
Of all of these items on this non-exhaustive list that felt most rabbinic… not sure but I think the schlepping of luggage wins. This must sound odd to all who are reading this article. It should’ve been the more rabbinic roles of counseling and teaching. But in reality, those were not the most important to me. Everyone expects a rabbi to be a listener and an advisor. Everyone expects that we teach Jews of all ages. But nobody expects rabbis to be human. I remember when I was a child and I saw my rabbi for the first time at the swimming pool in a swimsuit, I was so confused. How was he able to swim in the same pool as the rest of us? Why did he have anything to do outside of the synagogue? This made no sense. Now I am the rabbi and I am the one who is a regular person while being that rabbi at the same time. As long as modern Jews continue to put the rabbi on a bima (pedestal reference) and not in the community they will continue to feel that Judaism is foreign and inaccessible. As long as formality and roles matter more than God and the Jewish connections we need to make we will continue to endlessly spin our wheels and get nowhere at all. At Camp, the kids and the staff are treated to a totally different worldview. Rabbis are not leading services… campers and college students and others lead the services. At camp campers and adults are treated to seeing the rabbis in a totally different light that makes us the same as everyone else. The main reason that I see this being the case is that Camp is a utopian Jewish society where there are no “professional Jews” and everyone is experiencing the Judaism of the community and of themselves.
My image of the camp rabbi is to constantly say yes to all requests. The rabbi is just another person in the community and holds no greater role or lesser. Nothing should be above or beneath. “Josh, can you help cook tonight for the Israel Night?” The answer is yes. “Josh, can you help with marking the stage for the play?” Of course… we are all in this together. When the rabbi becomes humanized the campers and the staff benefit from seeing that Judaism is not an outdated religion for the elites but a current day relationship with God for all Jews. This is something that synagogues have not yet fully embraced. They want rabbis to be human but at the same time, they wince when we are too human. They want to be Jewish but they withdraw when rabbis try to push them to do more Jewish things. These are not rules but generalities. The reality is that the rabbi is distinct and should be. The reality is that the rabbi has a leadership role to play in the community that means that (s)he cannot always be human in everyone’s eyes. But the more that we do to cut down on the vast gulf that exists between the rabbis that we are at camps and the rabbis that we are at synagogues… the better it will be for the Jewish people.
When the rabbi becomes humanized the campers and the staff benefit from seeing that Judaism is not an outdated religion for the elites but a current day relationship with God for all Jews.
One of my favorite verses from the תורה is ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, and they shall make Me a sacred place and I will dwell in them. This is the translation that I like but the reality is that the Hebrew is very tricky in this and there is a very nuanced concept being painted here. Basically, the issue deals with the plural and singular words here. And they (plural) shall make Me (singular) a holy place (singular) and I will dwell in them (plural). This verse isn’t talking about the dwelling in the holy place but in the people who built and are part of the holy place. God does not dwell in any singular place but rather dwells in all people and all places. Camp is such a holy place. Camp fulfills the words of this verse. We built a sacred place and now God dwells in us. It isn’t that God dwells in me more than in the campers or other staff members. It isn’t that God dwells in the chapel more than in the climbing wall. God dwells in all of the campers and all of the staff and everyone who will open their hearts and souls to God’s presence. This is something that is done every day at Camp Ramah Darom. This is something that can be done time and again when we let go of the old outdated ideas that some are more holy or closer to God than others. This is something that can be uprooted when we form communities that are centered around God and the Jewish people and recognizes all that every person brings to that community. Schlepping luggage is humbling and promoting all at once. Schlepping luggage allows for me and my colleagues to be more accessible and to make camp more hands-on in terms of the Jewish expressions found there. Schlepping luggage makes me a human that loves God and the Jewish people and the Jewish faith that can be more emulated than when I am that guy on the bimah in the front of the room.