What a gift it is in life when we can nurture a project, a plant, an idea, or a human being from seed to a state of thriving. In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Tazria, we read about the instructions for birthing rituals including circumcision. Interestingly, the Torah does not use just one word for the birthing process, but instead two – tazria (to seed) and yalda (to birth). In a text where every addition and repetition is full of meaning, rabbinic commentaries notice the significance of the presence of both these verbs. Their presence reminds us that any birthing process is just that, a process, one that can be full of stages and milestones, setbacks and miracles.
My greatest joy over the last four years has been witnessing all the milestones and miracles in the seeding and development of Ramah in Northern California, and doing so in tandem with the development of young leaders and of my own daughter who was born just a few months before camp opened in 2016. When I first walked along camp’s shores and dreamed of Havdallah on the Beach, I scribbled down the following words:
Years from now when my children ask where we came from-
I will point here to these waves of familiarity
where the nuclei of any summer
are the unexpected leaders we make of each other.
Since writing those words four years ago, I have witnessed young Jewish leaders emerge from the sands of camp and that makes all the work of planting and tending worthwhile. For example, a few weeks ago I have had the incredible and unexpected opportunity to be interviewed by one of our local campers for a school research project in which he focused on the impact of camp on the social development of youth. What a treat it was to sit with 9th grade camper Ben Barnes as he shared with me his remarkable survey findings about the impact of Jewish summer camp on his peers and to field insightful questions about the inner workings of camp leadership! Then just a few days later I found myself in a second interview with Rosh Edah Alli Moses who was studying educational leadership at camp for a project in the Davidson School of Education at JTS. In these conversations I felt much like a proud parent watching her child swim on her own for the first time.
Lately I have come to notice leadership sprouting up everywhere, like new vegetation after a deluge of rain, a glimmer of hope for all of us, and a moment of rebirth. Perhaps this week’s Torah portion, Tazria (meaning will produce seed), is called just that to reaffirm for all of us the incredible resilience of our dreams.
Rabbi Sarah Shulman
Director, Camp Ramah in Northern California