Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,
I'm writing to you from Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia. I want to begin by thanking our leadership who gives me the opportunity to give back to the Jewish world by being here and also giving me an opportunity to connect with our campers from Shaarei Kodesh. Despite some challenges with Covid, our Shaarei Kodesh campers are having an incredible summer!
For those who do not know, I was on staff at Camp Ramah Darom, the Conservative movement’s camping movement, starting in 1998, the second year of the camp’s existence. At the time, it was about half the size, both in campers and staff, but also in the places built. With every passing year, more and more places were built, and with every new place, a new part of the camp was discovered by campers and staff alike. Incredible experiences happen in these places year after year. Each experience is different, and yet, they are similar.
In this week’s double parashah, Matot-Masei, we read a review of the list of places that Bnai Israel went in the wilderness. The places are read with a special trope, and, it can seem a bit repetitive and a little tedious. However, imagine if you visited those places and had experiences, both positive and negative, in them. In many ways, this is the story of our lives. If we give ourselves the time to reflect, we revisit the places in our lives where we fell short, where we triumphed, where we experienced God, where we fell in love, where our hearts were broken, where we healed, and through it all, we recognize how we’ve grown.
There is a hidden message in this list of places. A midrash teaches: “It is like the case of a king whose son was ill. He took him to a certain place to cure him. On their return journey, his father began to recount all the stages, saying: “Here we slept; here we cooled ourselves; here you had a headache.” So God said to Moses: “Tell them all the places where they provoked Me.”
My friend, Rabbi Jeff Salkin, taught the following about this midrash, “God remembers every step on the Jewish people’s journey. It’s like your parents keeping old photographs of you from when you were growing up. You were not always an easy child. But your parents like looking at the photographs and remembering, and hopefully you do too. Second, what goes for the ancient Israelites goes for us. Each of us is a product of a journey that is both ancient and modern.”
One of my favorite aspects of being at camp is to see our campers from Shaarei Kodesh have their own holy experiences in the same places where Alissa and I did over the years. It is truly an honor to see our children grow in this magical place.
I'd like to end with an article where I was interviewed by the national director of Camp Ramah, (at the time) Rabbi Mitch Cohen, which highlights the 'magic' I've experienced through my years at Camp Ramah.
I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and look forward to seeing you all in two Shabbatot back in Boca Raton!
Rabbi David Baum