“I get on my knees everyday and I’m saying an extra prayer right now,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters after briefing President Barack Obama. “If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.”
Oh Mr. Secretary, I think I have a religion for you!
As soon as I saw this quote, I was taken back to my days as Cejwin Camp in Port Jervis, NY. Rain is the enemy of camp. Camp by its nature is designed to be, well, in nature. Swimming, canoeing, playing ball, being outside. But yet when it rained, rather than huddling in the hot, little bunks, we rain outside and danced, and sang:
U-shavtem mayim b’sasson mimynay ha y’shu-ah,
Mayim mayim mayim mayim – hey mayim b’sasson,
Hey hey hey hey Mayim mayim mayim . . .
With joy shall you draw water from the wells of deliverance.
Although we didn’t sing the song in a drought experience, I’m not sure that one couldn’t. As Jews, we pray for rain to fall in Israel from Shemini Atzeret to Pesach. Maybe we should extend this prayer in the summer with the kavanah – intention of having it rain in the United States. The drought is so serious in some parts of the country (hard to believe after what seemed like a hurricane just last night) that we need to do our part!
It is not surprising that camp influences how I think, even when reading the news. As a Jewish educator I am often given the opportunity to visit Jewish camps and over the years I have been to many of the movement camps for a workshop or other experience in the summer. And I too get to go to songleading camp at OSRUI in Wisconsin every spring.
According to the Foundation for Jewish Camp:
The influence of summer camp on the ways in which adult Jews choose to engage with the community and the degree to which they associate with other Jews can be felt long after the last sunset of the summer. The impact is striking, especially when compared to their peers who did not spend their summer months at Jewish camp.
Camp attendance increases the likelihood of adult participation and identification in every one of these areas. As adults, campers are:
- 30% more likely to donate to a Jewish charity;
- 37% more likely to light Shabbat candles;
- 45% more likely to attend synagogue monthly or more; and
- 55% more likely to be very emotionally attached to Israel.Just today, I saw a few blog posts that brought it home for me why camp is so important to our children’s development as Jews and people.
In his Welcome to the Next Level blog, my friend Ira Wise, a Jewish educator in Connecticut, talks about Jewish summer camps and why he is going back to Eisner this summer. “Because camp is a huge part of why I became a Jewish educator . . . . It is a magical place. And so is nearly every other Jewish camp.” I do believe that there is nothing like the experience of living Judaism full time to get it into one’s kishkes.
Unfortunately, I also saw this blog post today: “Why My Blind Son is Returning from Camp Ramah in Canada a Month Early.” In a time when most camps and Jewish organizations are working diligently to be inclusive, Ramah included, this sad story happened. B’Kitzor — the very short version is that a young blind teen who had attended Camp Ramah in Canada for several years was told that he would have to leave a month early because, “The director’s explanation boiled down to a statement that the camp is not willing to devote the resources to continuing to include Solomon fully in the program.” I truly believe that this is an isolated incident, but one that should be remembered. As educators we have an enormous influence on our students’ future. We can mold their vision of the world. And with a (perhaps) rogue leader, one’s vision might also be changed forever. One can only hope that Solomon’s previous four years at camp are so embedded in his kishkes that this will not change his vision of Judaism. Or if it does, it is for the better.
(As I write this, it seems that Solomon might have receive a reprieve. The blog post received so many comments that perhaps word got to the higher-ups. There is nothing like the power of the pixel!)
As I look out my window in Manhattan, it seems like it might rain yet again. Last night’s rain brought today’s cool weather, and for me, the cool weather has made it easier to think again and get my creative juices flowing. When we pray for rain, we ask God to provide rain in the proper season. We know that too much at the wrong time can create destruction. The same is true for camp. When done well, camp leads to Jewish growth. I hope there will be lots of good rain in Solomon’s future and the future of all our campers.
There is only one way to end this piece: with a remembrance of the greatest camp song of all. And Alan Sherman also reminds us that there are two sides to every story. Let’s hope that we hear another side to Solomon’s story that is more positive.