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As a rabbi and educator, there is nothing more fulfilling than to watch children and teens expand their horizons of perception in new and different places—allowing new experiences and environments to imprint themselves in the form of memories.
Among a whole host of exciting moments at camp this week, I was struck by the joy our hanichim (campers) expressed about their masaot—the journeys they embarked upon away from our beautiful campus.
What’s scarier than being the person in charge? Well for me, it’s being the number two. I don’t know about you, but there is a certain anxiety that I experience knowing that I’m the second in command because at any moment if the person in charge is unable to continue in his or her capacity, all eyes suddenly turn to me….Oy! Most organizations in the world have a plan for succession. Not only is it good planning, but it also creates a sense of stability and confidence that everything is in order if, God forbid, we have an emergency. But where did the line of succession come from? Well, I think that there is some strong evidence that points directly to this week’s Torah portion.
We rarely think of ourselves as female role models at camp. Rather, we are the Camp Directors, Program Director, Waterfront Director, and Rosh Performing Arts, our jobs focused on empowering, supporting, and facilitating the safety, education, and creativity of all kids at camp. But when one looks at Ramah Galim through the lens of this week’s Torah portion and the daughters of Zelophehad, who stood up brilliantly to Moses to fight for their own inheritance, what one views is rather remarkable: this camp community is a place that offers a strong and different voice of female leadership.
The very design of the camp’s program and staff structure speaks to a deep desire to empower every individual to grow and contribute as leaders, fostering Manhigut in so many ways. I was especially struck by the new addition of a Nachshon edah, which providing campers entering into their upper years of high school a richer camp adventure as they shared their experience in camp, expertise and enthusiasm with campers, whether teaching songs, dances, camp or leading Yom Sport. Beyond just these elder campers, I felt strongly the sense that every staff member, counselor and even the campers themselves saw it as their responsibility to lead others as role models and exemplars of the values and spirit that make Ramah Galim unique. Rather than shying away from opportunities, I witness campers and staff alike step up to share stories, lead skits, teach Torah and support each other in a way that makes camp a great training ground for the leaders they can be in their communities back home.
Still in the midst of their desert trek, our ancestors have finally made camp. More than that, in recent chapters of the Torah, we read of challenges to Moses’ leadership by Aaron and Miriam, a chaotic attempted mutiny by Korach and his group of rebels, troubling pessimism from spies sent to scout out the Promised Land, inhospitable neighbors, the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, and countless other trials. It feels like just too much, more than any people can bear.
How could anyone imagine the Israelites taking even one more step after all this? That is where our Parashah begins. And the big gift is: an answer, one that flows straight through the heart of Ramah Galim, can also be found in our holy narrative.
On our second day of the summer, my three-year-old started calling our camp lodgings “home.” I asked him what he meant and he said, “We have two homes: Galim and St. Louis. And both have red doors!” I was amazed, first that he’d noticed and correctly recalled the color of the door (I thought it was brown), but even more than that was the fact that at so young an age he could say something that had taken me a lifetime to understand: that camp is home.
The journey to find a sacred place to call home can be full of twists and turns. We see it in Parashat Balak, which we read this Shabbat. Much as Bilaam ends up discovering an encampment of lovely tents and dwelling places among the people he was sent to curse, we are often surprised by the incredible places we encounter. And sometimes, if we are lucky, we get to come back to the special places in our lives again and again.