Shabbat is not in Heaven

I have many great memories of growing up at camp. For many of us camp alumni, a disproportional amount of these memories are of Shabbat. From a serene Kabbalat Shabbat by the lake, to an emotive song session in the dining hall, euphoric dancing on the basketball court, chocolate bobka at the Shabbat Oneg, resting on boys campus on Shabbat afternoon, and Havdalah that seemed to last to the middle of the night, Shabbat at camp was amazing and transcendent.

These might be my most precious of memories. As more time and distance pass from my experience of Shabbat at camp, it seems that I have not just placed these memories on a pedestal, but I have locked them in a glass cabinet. When I get together and reminisce with camp friends, I feel like a young Cosette from Les Miserables talking about Shabbat. As her song goes:

There is a room that’s full of toys
There are a hundred boys and girls
Nobody shouts or talks too loud
Not in my castle on a cloud (Les Miserables)

While I hold these memories dear, it saddens me to think of why we have limited our access to Shabbat outside of camp.  Are my options simply not appealing? Do they not feel authentic? Do I have some sort of fear of tarnishing my camp Shabbat memories? Whatever the reason, Shabbat is not supposed to be a “Castle on a Cloud”; rather it is supposed to be a “Palace in Time.” In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world. (The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man)

Shabbat at camp was special, but we do not need wooden cabins to experience the sacred architecture of Shabbat. While our memories might stem from our distant childhoods, one need not be a child—or a father or mother of one—to reconnect to Shabbat.

The work of the Foundation for Jewish Camp is important. We need to radically increase the number of our youth that are having these peak Jewish experiences. The lasting memories and relationships of Jewish camp are vital, but not sufficient. We must also find ways to empower alumni of these experiences to find ways to let these memories leak into the rest of their lives. Shabbat without the lake might not seem perfect, but it will be. We need to work on an integrated program of inspiring “peak and leak” experiences.

I am very proud that One Happy Camper, a program of FJC, is sponsoring Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging, which is coming up this Friday, March 4th – 5th. Join in, unplug camp-style, and share your new memories.

– as seen on FJC Blog 


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