Infectious Spirit: A D’var Torah by Ilana Sandberg, 2018 Summer Program Director | Camp Ramah Northern California

Infectious Spirit: A D’var Torah by Ilana Sandberg, 2018 Summer Program Director

It’s Tuesday night and I’m finally sitting down after a long day of travel. I’m staying with a Jewish family in the outskirts of London preparing to sing at a senior center in the city tomorrow. I have now been traveling with my Jewish a cappella group, Pizmon, for six days—we are on our spring break music outreach trip visiting the Netherlands, England, and Poland. Over the course of the week we have been singing at schools, shuls, and senior centers—meeting Jews young and old, all in need of inspiration. This challenge is precisely what my years at camp have trained me undertake!

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about tuma—the concept that when you touch something that is impure, you also become impure until you cleanse yourself. This idea of impurity being contagious often bothers me because some things that the Bible says makes a person contagious are uncontrollable.

So instead, I like to take this concept and flip it. Swap tuma out for joy or energy and replace the dead animals (one source of impurity spoken about in this parsha) with music. Music, in my experience, has an incredible effect. When I hear music, I often can’t help but to sing or dance along (even when I’m walking down the street). Music affects my mood, when I’m exhausted after a long week, music energizes me. When I’m upset, music can both validate me and lift me back up. The contagious ability of music is what makes Pizmon’s trip so successful and is a piece of the holiness that makes up camp. There are so many contagiously joyous aspects of camp that bring us this feeling of holiness—whether mesmerized by the dolphins right near your surfboard, fulfilled because you got a scene just right, exhilarated from biking down the path to the sea, or simply calmed by sharing a moment with a friend, our camp day brings us contagious joy in a form so intense it cannot be cleansed. We welcome the Shabbat bride with song and dance and fill the chilly evening with ruach so contagious the whales start jumping from the sea to hear us sing.

Part of what makes that moment so spectacular is the sense of community that courses through our veins as we grab each others’ hands to dance.  We are lucky to build our community with incredible people of all ages and part of what makes this diverse and joyful community so infections is the leadership. Leading us in song, dance, and pure joy, our rashei edah of this coming summer truly embody the spirit that makes our camp a family. As program director this coming summer, I am so excited to work with the incredible team of rashei edah as we craft the moments that will construct our unforgettable summer.

My hope for us all on this Shabbat is that we can find a piece of this contagious joy and “infect” someone else with it. I hope that I can do this for the Jewish community of Warsaw, and that you can find someone in your own community with whom you can share this sense of light and holiness.