Posts Tagged 'Leaders Assembly'

Assembling Big and Small

As we come to the close of the book of Exodus with Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei we come together to  assemble. At the start of this week’s Torah portion we learn:

וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל  

Moshe then assembled the whole Israelite community… (Exodus 35:1)

On a related note Rav Nachman of Breslov the 18th Century Chasidic Master taught:

The essence of Teshuva– return is in the month of Elul because it is during these days of favor, when Moshe ascended Mt Sinai to receive the second set of Tablets and opened an yet-charted path in which to go. Now, the path which Moshe made is this: Moshe bound himself with even the smallest Jew, and gave of himself for them, as it is written, “But if not, please blot me out!” (Exodus 32:32). This is also the meaning of: “And Moshe assembled…” (Exodus 35:1)—that Moshe would gather, unite and bind himself with all of Israel, even with the smallest of the least. This is the meaning of “They have entirely withdrawn; together” (Psalms 53:4). Even when I see a Jew who has totally withdrawn from God, I nevertheless need us to be “together”—I must unite and bind with him, just as Moshe did. (Likutei Moharan, Part II 82:3:1)

I was thinking about this Torah from Rav Nachman this last week.  This last week was supposed to be FJC’s Leader’s Assembly. In this biennial conference we bring together 800 Jewish camp professionals, lay leaders, and supporters of the field of Jewish summer camp Sunday- Tuesday in Baltimore. In addition I was planning to spend last Shabbat with over 40 camp directors from outside of North America.  Alas with the onset of COVID-19 – this did not happen. A week prior we called it off and then within 48 hours the team turned it around and produced an amazing virtual conference.

It was an amazing experience to get together with that many people in the cloud when so many of us were quarantined at home. The FJC team did an amazing job helping the field of Jewish camp chart a new path to assemble and connect with each other. While we know that the coming weeks and months we find ourselves in uncharted territories, together we must keep our eyes on the future of the field, its continued growth and the important, life-long community that camps build. Despite the mandate for social distancing we know that we still need to assemble.

Amidst these tumultuous times it is clear to me that camp leadership are acting as Moshe did giving of themselves and doing whatever it takes to draw our community together no matter the barriers or challenges.  Like the days of Elul- in coming to Jewish camp we return to a utopian vision of the world and do Teshuva to return to better versions of ourselves. Camp is the opposite of social distancing. Camp is the place of belonging. From the smallest camper to our teens, to new staff members, to year round professionals, to their families, to board members, to all of our supporters Jewish camp brings them “together”. It is at camp that any Jew big or small can connect to Jewish Life, develop a passion for Israel, feel like a part of a vibrant Jewish community, or even discover God.

This Leaders Assembly was proof that people really just wanted to assemble. I am in awe of these leaders’ capacity to give of themselves. Right now the world needs Jewish camp more than ever. We all seek belonging and they are playing a critical role. Together we need to “unite and bind” us and assemble all of Israel.

Jewish Camp is a Gateway

Recently I had the honor of speaking at a dinner at the Foundation for Jewish Camp‘s Leaders Assembly 2018 in Baltimore. It was a wonderful conference. Unfortunately the sound was not really working during my speech so well so I figured that I would post the speech.

With Passover soon at hand I wanted to share with you a special story about leaving Egypt, but not the one from our Seder tables.

In sixth century BCE, when building the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a  man named Nicanor set out to attain a special gate for one of the doorways of the Temple. We learn in the Gemara in Yoma:

Nicanor went to Alexandria in Egypt to bring the doors, on his return a huge wave threatened to engulf the boat. To save themselves the ship’s crew took one of the precious doors and cast it into the sea, but still the sea continued to rage tossing the boat around. When the crew prepared to cast the other door into the sea, Nicanor rose and clung to it, saying, ‘Cast me in with it.’ The sea immediately became calm. He was, however, deeply grieved about the other door [lost to the sea]- mitzta’er al haverta- literally- he was saddened about its friend. As they reached the harbor of Akko, the door broke through and appeared from under the sides of the boat.  [Yoma 38a]

Nicanor  teaches us the lessons of grit and determination, selflessness and reward. Just like my mama told me, ‘The harder you work the luckier you get’. Nicanor was willing to give of himself  because for him “Good enough was simply not good enough”. He really wanted these special doors to be in the Temple.

Often when we think about the utility of a gate we think about who it is keeping in or keeping out. That was not the case for Nicanor. He went back to Egypt —  a place of our bondage –for a gate that would adorn the experience of coming and going at the holiest communal space. Like our camps, these doors would house much more than simply people, but holy memories and experiences that form our personal and national identity.

Tonight we come together as a community to celebrate the people who, like Nicanor, really have given of themselves and inspire us with their grit and determination. Camp professionals sacrifice sleep, personal resources and free time in order to go above and beyond in the pursuit of providing meaningful Jewish experiences that shape people’s lives. The Jewish knowledge and experiences we gain at camp give us access.

Jewish camp is a gateway.

Jewish camp is a gateway to make friends for life.

Jewish camp is a gateway to learn valuable skills for our future careers.

Jewish camp is a gateway to get the building blocks for making a Jewish family.

Jewish camp is a gateway to belong to a Jewish community.

Tonight we celebrate just a few of these extraordinary professionals whose hard work and dedication to excellence deserve recognition. Mitzta’er al haverta – We would be at a loss without you friends. First, we will acknowledge some monumental milestones in our field. These are the people who have made the long journey. We are blessed in this room to have people who have been working with generations of campers and staff members, impacting entire communities. 

Next,  FJC, with the support of Avi Chai Foundation, is proud to recognize three early career Jewish camp educators. Though closer to the start of the journey, these professionals  have already inspired their camps with their creativity and commitment to opening up Jewish life to the next generation. Each will get a generous investment of $3600 to be used for continued education to support them in their journey.

And then Genesis Philanthropy Group will recognize one camp that has   made great strides in accessibility for Russian Speaking Jews in our community and the iCenter will recognize two camps which have gone above and beyond to reimagine Israel education.

Tonight we express Hakarat HaTov– gratitude- to people who have clung  to the gate to ensure that Jewish Life is accessible to our community. Each of our honorees shows us that the harder you work the luckier we all get. Their efforts have ensured that more campers, staff members, and their families pass through our gates and connect to the majestic experience of  Jewish camp. They are inspirational.

I also want to take a moment to express my Hakarat HaTov– gratitude to Julie Finkelstein and the rest of the FJC team who have really clung to this Leaders’ Assembly to make it everything thing it is. We all appreciate your self-sacrifice for excellence. And I can see the second gate coming out of the water now.

Thank you  


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