Posts Tagged 'Ramah Poconos'

Revealing Family Passover

We come together for Passover to celebrate our ongoing liberation from slavery. During the seder we will speak at length about the exodus from Egypt, but how did we, the descendants of Jacob, get there? Before we ask how did we end up as slaves we need to ask how did we end up in Egypt?

This story starts with Joseph and his brothers. Annoyed by his being different, they sell him into slavery. Through a turn of events Joseph ends up in a position of power in Egypt. Forced by the famine in the land of Canaan, his brothers unwittingly come before Joseph seeking sustenance. Sitting before them, he is faced with a choice as to whether or not he will keep his identity closeted. The text reads:

Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, “Cause every man to go out from me.” And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he gave his voice in tears; and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard” (Genesis 45:1-2).

When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, his voice knows no limits, and everyone in Egypt finds out about his identity. Through Joseph’s coming-out they were all witness to the unfolding of God’s plan.  What started off as a family tragedy was transformed into a divine national comedy.

In modern times we can hear resonance of the Passover cry for justice in the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  He wrote that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963). I believe that we can hear a corollary to this in the sound of Joseph’s tears. There is an inextricable connection between personal and national revelation. While Moses led us out of Egypt we were not truly free until we experienced God’s revelation at Sinai. Joseph’s personal revelation to his brothers was a precursor to God’s coming out to the nation at Sinai. While we need to seek justice for everyone, we should rise to the challenge of realizing that we will not understand the collective revelation until we are all free to express all of who we are as individuals.

A few months ago I went to a benefit hosted by Camp Ramah in the Poconos, the camp at which I grew up. There were some people there who I had not seen for 20 years. Stepping into that room it was as if we were all back at camp. One hug later it was as if no time had passed. We were family. For a moment there I had a sense of what Joseph and his brothers must have felt so many years ago. Camp avails us of the opportunity to expand our idea of family. There in the presence of our camp family we can give voice to hidden parts of ourselves. There we can start to articulate what we aspire to become in our lives. How can we provide our children with that safe place to reveal all of who they are and who they might become?

At your seder, as the Jewish world sits as equals sharing food, I hope that more of us find safe space to share ourselves with the collective. May you have a very revealing and meaningful Passover.

– Posted from the Canteen


I am a Jewish farmer- Rabbi Joel Seltzer

– From Recent blog of Rabbi Joel Seltzer on Haaretz.

Twelve years ago, long before I decided to dedicate my life to Jewish education, long before I chose to become a rabbi, I was a counselor for the oldest kids on camps. It was the hardest and most important job of my life.

It was the end of a long eight-week summer at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, and I sat in a gazebo with my Rosh Edah, my division head, in order to process the summer that was.

summer camp Israeli children participating in a summer camp activity in August 2007.
Photo by: Limor Edrey

“I don’t feel like I was successful” I told him. “I don’t think that I transformed the campers into the leaders that I wanted them to be, the Jews that I dreamed they could be, the mensches that I know they can be. Instead,” I admitted, “I feel like I failed them – I was not the transformative educator that I thought I could be.”

My wise division head, now a rabbi himself, simply smiled and said, “You are an idiot.”
“If you think the job of Jewish education can be completed in just eight weeks, or twelve, or even in a year, then you simply do not understand the line of work that we are in.”

“This is not a job where you receive instant gratification,” he explained. “We must be in it for the long haul, and you will have to wait years, even decades, before you can determine whether or not this summer, and your role in it, was a success.”

Long ago someone had told me that Jewish education was like agriculture: you plant seeds in the soil and wait for them to sprout; some do and some do not. Sometimes, despite the right conditions, despite the constant watering and the endless patience of the farmer, the seed simply will not germinate. Other times you can ignore a corner of your field only to discover it later in full bloom. And like a farmer, all an educator can do is wait and wonder what the results of the latest season will be: feast or famine?

Perhaps the Jewish world is now ready to take this metaphor into the twenty-first century. If Jewish education is like agriculture then perhaps we should be ready to apply some of the scientific advances found in the world of farming to our mission as teachers of Torah. Perhaps we should commission soil studies in order to determine where the most fertile ground is to sow our seeds of study. Maybe we should explore ways of digging channels from large bodies of water – like Israel, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – in order to irrigate the Jewish world that lies in between. Perhaps the time has come to explore subsidies that would help our Jewish educational institutions practice the art of their farming more effectively. If Jewish education is like agriculture, then I am proud to be a farmer – but a modern farmer, one who is willing to explore every available advantage that could allow for a greater, more consistent yield.

The truth is that I often think back to that summer twelve years ago and I think about those campers and where they are now. They are doctors, lawyers, and bankers. They are Jewish educators, artists, musicians and writers. Tragically, two of them are no longer with us: one, a lone soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, was killed in the line of fire in Lebanon, and the other was struck down by an indiscriminant Leukemia. The others are no longer anyone’s campers; instead they are Jewish adults who have celebrated, supported and mourned with one another for the past twelve years.

Just this past Thursday night I was with a few of these former campers at an event celebrating our camp and its past leadership. Suddenly one of them looked down at her phone and whispered some exciting news. “Dara had her baby,” she said, “It’s a girl!” Suddenly, I was transported back to that gazebo twelve years ago and to the wise words of my sage mentor: “You are an idiot.” It was only then that I finally realized that any serious Jewish educator must be a passionate and patient farmer – you can simply never know when the seeds of Torah will sprout.

Rabbi Joel Seltzer is a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Providence, R.I., and he was recently named the incoming director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos.

* This is me again.  It gives me joy imagining you sitting in that gazebo for many years to come. And yes Joel, you are still an idiot. But, aren’t we all?

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