Picking A Name : A Reflection on Parashat Vayishlach by Rabbi Corey Helfand | Camp Ramah Northern California

Picking A Name : A Reflection on Parashat Vayishlach by Rabbi Corey Helfand

In the spring of 2017, our community, Peninsula Sinai Congregation, gave our Greenberg Religious School a Hebrew name.  After the students and parents voted for their favorite, they chose Kesher, a word that means “connection.”  I’ve found that picking a name for someone else, for yourself, or to describe an experience that you had, is always a daunting feat.  You want to make sure it fits just right, that it’s easy to say, and that it conveys something about your identity.  Although to be fair, often we are given one name, and then through the journeys we take in life, we redefine it’s meaning.

This is exactly what happens to our Patriarch, Jacob, in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayishlach.  Just prior to being reunited with his brother Esau, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious assailant in the middle of the night.  After emerging wounded yet victorious, the unnamed “ish” (Hebrew for “man” blesses Jacob with a new name, Yisrael, “the one who struggles with beings Divine and human and prevailed” (Genesis 32:29).  What’s remarkable about this new name is that embedded within it are “connections” to Jacob’s identity, past, present and future.  Even though he is now “Israel,” he will always have a part of him that is “Jacob,” his birth name given to him by his parents Isaac and Rebecca.  At present, the name Israel reminds us of what it means to wrestle and struggle throughout life, in our relationships with others and with God.  And in the future, this name will become a name not only for Jacob’s children, B’nai Yisrael, but for the Jewish people, Am Yisrael.

In thinking about all of these new names, I remember when our newfound camp was simply called Ramah of Northern California.  It was simple and appropriate, yet there was still something missing.  And then came Ramah Galim (waves), a name that reminds us of the blessings of being the only Ramah camp by the Ocean, a name that my kids immediately link to the Himnon (camp song) where we sing Osim Galim, and a name that now has memories from two summers with many more to come.  And today, inspired by the example of Ramah, our Kesher program, is making new “connections” between our students and parents.  We do this by connecting Jewish living and practice to everyday life not only through the Peninsula Sinai community, but through our partnership and connection with Ramah Galim.  

This weekend, as we prepare for another Kesher Shabbat at PSC, our Kesher students and parents will join the entire community for Shabbat morning, blessed to also have Rabbi Sarah Shulman and Alana Tilman in our midst.  It will be the ultimate “Kesher–connection” between Ramah Galim, PSC and the Kesher program.  Being in partnership with Ramah Galim helps our students and families enjoy the taste of Ramah Galim throughout the year and gets them excited about joining the Galim community next summer.  This Shabbat, as you read about Jacob becoming Israel, think about your name and what it means to you and to others.  And if you’re up for a challenge, consider coming back to camp or joining Ramah Galim for the first time next summer.  I’m confident that it’s impact on your name will be life-changing.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Corey Helfand

Peninsula Sinai Congregation