I have been hearing from a lot of people that they are surprised that the High Holidays are so early this year. While this is the earliest that the Jewish calendar comes in the Gregorian calendar year, Rosh HaShanah is always the first of Tishrei, the first month of the Hebrew calendar. While this creates a staffing issue for some camps, New Year “starting so early” has created a wonderful educational opportunity. It is not every summer that we are able to herald the coming of Elul, the 12th month of the Hebrew calendar, while we are still up at camp. With the advent of Elul we start the daily blowing the shofar and reading of L’David Ori (Psalm 27).
According to Hasidic thinking the days of Elul are the time when “the King is in the field.” The metaphor follows that gaining an audience with the King during Tishrei is a whole to-do. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. And even then it may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. When we do finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. There seems to be a lot of pressure with of the people in line behind you. Since very few of us actually live in the capital city, these royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays makes us feel out-of-place. By the time we get there we might have even forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King in the first place.
Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. According to the Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavicher Rebbe) during Elul “anyone who desires is granted permission and can approach the King and greet the King. The King received them all pleasantly, and shows a smiling countenance to all” (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b) Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. This explains the Shofar. Here in the field the formality is transformed into familiarity. The common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive blessings. During Elul, with limited effort the King is accessible. We just need to go out and greet the King.
Camp is an amazing place where many of us had our first experience of spirituality in nature. If there was only a way we could bring those experiences home with us. This resonates with a message from L’David Ori. There we read:
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of the Lord, and to visit early in God’s temple. (Psalms 27:4)
But how might we “dwell in the house of the Lord” all year long? How can we bring camp home with us?
In my five years working at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I have noticed a growing sense of camps working together. There is a reality that camp is camp. And Jewish camp is all about Joyous Judaism. They are not in competition, in reality as they continue to differentiate themselves we as a field are able to reach the broad and diverse needs of our community. Like every other summer, we at the FJC hit the road to see the camps that we work with year round. I have had the joy of experiencing the growth of this field. There is a sense of the significance and sense of common purpose which lends a certain valiance of spirituality to our work. Going from camp to camp we can share with the directors a grand vision of the varieties of expressions of robust Jewish life and how it animates the cultures created in each camp’s community. Each camp is creating an environment in which their campers and staff feel that they belong, make a difference, and are part of something bigger then themselves. In these moments we can experience the mystery, magic, and majesty of Jewish peoplehood.
With the advent of Elul we all have a chance to think about this upcoming year. If you love Jewish camp, want to learn from it, contribute to it, or find a way to connect to that sense of belonging like we did in that field at camp join us this March 23-25, 2014 Leaders Assembly 2014: One Field Moving Forward. Have a wonderful New Year.
– As seen on FJC Blog