This six words “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad”- “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” are the essence of our faith. They are among the very first prayers we recite with our children at the earliest age and the last prayers upon the lips of generations of martyrs. The prayer continues “Veshinantam Levanecha” exhorting us to teach the sacred words of the Torah to the next generation.
Our sages read the verse of the Shema, “You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) with careful attention. Rabbi Akiva taught “with all your soul — even if God takes your soul from you” and then fulfilled his own teaching by dying a martyr’s death with the words of the sh’ma on his lips. Other sages focused on the words “with all your might,” explaining that it meant,” with all one’s earthly wealth.” Rabbi Eliezer asked: if one must love God even to the point of one’s very life, is any financial demand not merely superfluous? He answered his own question: For some, a financial demand is more distressing than a threat to life itself.
“As I was leaving the bunk, I heard these kids ending their day with the words of the Shema, and it was one of the most uplifting feelings I have had all summer.”
Those words of the Shema resonate for me as I spent time at Camp Ramah Darom this summer. Jewish Summer camp is one of the biggest investments my family makes, not only in terms of the financial cost, (with all your might) but in that, I take two weeks to give of myself, (my heart and soul) as an educator at camp. The return is extraordinary, and not just in terms of what I see in my own children. The camp environment fosters an incredible sense of meaning and joy in Shabbat and Jewish prayer. I have had the chance to help children and teens, including many from our congregation, grapple with some of the toughest issues in Jewish ethics and personal development. I have the opportunity to take time for my own study and spiritual growth and translate my experiences here into teaching and spirituality for our community.
One of my favorite moments came earlier this week when I had a chance to do something that at camp is called a “Harga’ah.” Counselors invite a member of staff to visit their bunk at bedtime to tell a story or lead a conversation. My conversation with the teens in the bunk began with a discussion of one of their favorite TV shows. We were able to identify some Jewish themes beneath the surface of a cartoon about a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The questions kept coming, branching off to topics that these teens would probably not have imagined discussing with a rabbi until it was 1 AM and time for everyone to get to sleep.
“The words of the Shema do ask us to give a lot of ourselves, but they also tell us that there is hope for a Jewish future if we are willing to invest in it.”
As I was leaving the bunk, I heard these kids ending their day with the words of the Shema, and it was one of the most uplifting feelings I have had all summer. These kids not only love being Jewish, but they have the knowledge and commitment to relate Judaism to their “real lives” and carry that on through their teen years and into adulthood. The words of the Shema do ask us to give a lot of ourselves, but they also tell us that there is hope for a Jewish future if we are willing to invest in it. Atlanta has made important strides in putting Jewish summer camp in reach of more children, and I hope that we can do even more in years to come.