Showing posts from July, 2011

What I learned at Camp Newman #4 - Change your perspective

Number four: change your perspective While we were at camp we experienced the first rainy day in summer ever in the 17-year history of Camp Newman. This is California; rain gear wasn’t even on the packing list! And this was serious rain—not a drizzle, but a downpour most of the day. Trying to entertain 600 very active kids indoors all day was a challenge, but it wound up being a great day. It started with reciting the schecheynu at breakfast; from the beginning, the counselors and campers faced the day with positive energy. It was not a rainout—it was an adventure. There were lots of board games, and tables were flipped over for indoor gaga. The camp was like a multiplex, with every available room showing a movie. There was even a sculpture-making class in the director’s kitchen. What could have been a disaster turned out to be a fabulous day. Sometimes you have to just be flexible—take a step back and look at the bigger picture; one rainy day was not going to ruin camp. Our expectations…

What I learned at Camp #3 - Prayer is about you, not about God

Hiking with Rishonim and Rabbi Paul Kipnes at Camp Newman Number three: Prayer is about you, not about God This summer at camp I was with a group of eighth and ninth graders who were spending a month exploring Jewish experiences in nature. Every other day Rabbi Paul Kipnes and I would get a new group of 14 kids to take hiking. At the beginning of each hike we started with tefilat haderech—the travelers’ prayer. We talked with the kids about why, historically, we needed a travelers’ prayer and what kinds of things we would pray for today as we started our short journey up the hills of Napa. The kids went around the circle listing things they wanted protection from—like poison oak, bees and sunburn—and what blessings they hoped to find, like connecting with friends and having fun. We turned all these hopes and fears into a prayer, our own customized tefilat haderech. I could stop here and tell you about the beauty of writing our own prayer—and it was beautiful—but that was the point of the…

More lessons from Jewish Summer Camp: #2 Pray in English

Shabbat at Camp Newman

Number two: pray in English It can sometimes seems that our tradition feels praying in Hebrew is more authentic than praying in English—but there’s a reason there’s so much English in our prayerbook:  sometimes you just need to pray in English. It’s the language that many of us are most familiar with, and in which it is easiest for us to express our thoughts and feelings. You may not be surprised to hear there is a good mix of English and Hebrew in prayer services at camp, but you might be surprised that English is not the only vernacular to find its way into the prayer service. One of the prayers we say in every service is the kaddish. We are all familiar with the mourners’ kaddish that comes at the end of our service, but there is also a hatzi kaddish—a “half kaddish”—that is a marker between parts of the service. When the kaddish was added to the service, it was considered so important that its words be understood by the person praying them that it was not writte…

5 things I learned at Camp Newman this summer #1

TAS Alum and Camp Newman Counselor Sam Avishay welcoming campers on opening day.

Number one: be welcoming. As soon as you arrive at Camp Newman you are greeted by a large group of teenagers, clapping and dancing and singing “Shalom Aleichem.” You know you are in the right place and—more than that—you know that you belong there, and that the people around you want you to be there. Judaism values the welcoming of guests. Abraham and Sarah welcomed strangers into their tent, rushing to help them wash the dirt off their feet and preparing them something to eat. On Sukkot we symbolically welcome our ancestors into the sukkah, already filled with the friends and family we’ve invited. On Passover we say, “let all who are hungry, come and eat.” And of course, Shabbat is traditionally a time for inviting others to share a meal with us. We are a welcoming people. “Come in, sit, have a nosh.” Arrival at camp takes welcoming guests to the extreme. And while our own guests might be taken aback if we gr…