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I absolutely LOVE cooking. From zucchini bread to tacos, whether in cooking chug or solo, I never tire of clanging pots and pans or the beep of the oven timer. For me, the joy in cooking comes from being able to share food with others. Feeding people is my favorite way to demonstrate hospitality, something that Abraham and I seem to have in common.
If the holiday of Sukkot took place during the summer, when camp is in session, it would surely be a Tikvah favorite! Sukkot teaches so many of the values that we live each day in all of our National Ramah Tikvah Network camping and vocational training programs.
Sukkot is a time for experiencing joy (the holiday is called Zman Simchateinu, the holiday of our joy). It is also a time for going out of our comfort zone, for radical inclusion, and for being good guests and hosts.
Sitting in a sukkah—whether in the cold (sometimes snowy!) northeast or Midwest, the hot South or the sometimes smoky northwest—is not always comfortable. We leave our comfortable homes for 7 days—and sit in temporary booths. Tikvah campers leave the comforts of home for camp. It is not always easy, but it is sure worth it!
This week, I made a huge change. Instead of zooming into classes from my favorite armchair, I actually sat on the couch! Okay, perhaps it wasn’t such a huge variation. But in these days of endless Zoom calls, my routine has become so fixed that the tiniest alteration feels huge. Lately, I have found that newness and excitement are hard to come by. This feels particularly challenging while we’re in the month of Elul, and “newness” is exactly what we’re supposed to be preparing for. During Elul, we reflect on our decisions and actions in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah, a brand-new year. In a time of so much sameness, I’ve been feeling a little lost. Will anything really feel new this year?In my skepticism, I turned to my experience at camp for inspiration.
Each Shabbat morning at Ramah Galim is marked by the excited shouts of “Hafoch ba! Hafoch ba! Hafoch ba!” – “Turn it and turn it and turn it again.” As we spin our “Gal gal shel Torah,” (Wheel of Torah) to explore the week’s parsha, we shout these words from Pirkei Avot 5:22, a reminder that no matter how many times we read the same stories, the Torah always has something new to offer.
This week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, offers a similar piece of wisdom. Just as the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land, Moshe reminds them of the blessings and curses contingent on their adherence to God’s commandments. He frames the list with these words: “Adonai your God commands you this day to observe these laws and rules; observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul” (26:16). The commentator Rashi suggests that the words “this day” are intended to tell us that each and every day, we should treat the commandments as if we are receiving them for the very first time. Even though they are ancient, even though we strive to follow the same commandments all the time, we should find novelty in them every day.
When Camp Ramah in Northern California made the same painful decision as other Jewish camps around the country to cancel our 2020 camp season, we knew that our anticipated vision of campers running into the arms of old friends and, by the end of the summer, putting their arms around new friends, would be lost.
We also knew that campers would miss out on being embraced all summer long by staff and madrichim. In addition to keeping our camp running like a well-oiled machine, our staff – from song leaders to bunk supervisors to those who prepare our food each day – serve as role models to our youngsters and teens.
As we transition out of the mournful days leading up to Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, we seek comfort. This Shabbat, for that very reason, is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort. On Tisha B’Av, we are meant to mourn our loss–we mourn the destruction of the Temples and many other tragic events that befell the Jewish people over the course of our history. Then we move into comfort-mode, we think about caring for one another and about how to rebuild.
This trajectory mirrors how I see these past few months. We lost many things, things that are worthy of mourning: we lost in-person communities and we lost experiences. We lost camp as we knew it. Right after the loss, right after our time of mourning we read in the Haftarah this week from “נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י”, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40.1). Why is the word Nachamu repeated? According to Spanish commentator Ibn Ezra, it means we must comfort immediately and repeatedly. When we lost in-person camp, we, the Ramah Galim community, quickly turned to comfort one another. We reached out to each other, we sent videos acknowledging our feelings and speaking words of comfort. With time, we also pushed ourselves to rebuild and reimagine.