A Raging Flame to Illuminate the Future
by Rabbi Jack Paskoff
I don’t know how tall Robert Gerofsky is, but he’s a lot bigger than I am. Last Monday morning, as I stood in my tallit, my vintage NFTY-PAR hat (it counts as a head covering), shorts and a t-shirt, I had Robert stand next to me as I spoke with 55 campers (pre-school through 7th grade), 16 high school students, and five adults, we talked about how we can feel small and insecure when we stand next to giants. We might feel as insignificant as grasshoppers. And so it was for 10 out of 12 spies Moses sent into Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, centuries and centuries ago.
On Tuesday, it rained. Shaarai Day Camp had to meet indoors at the JCC. We prayed and sang. There was a huge soccer game in the gym, and a showing of Dreamworks’ “Joseph: King of Dreams” movie in the ballroom. We learned Hebrew words for rain and sun, swimming and pool, car and computer. We told stories about the legendary figure, Choni, from the time of the Talmud, master circle drawer, sleeper, and close buddy with God. Our middle schoolers took apart computers to be reassembled and distributed to impoverished people locally and globally. Before the week is over, they will have also worked at Milagro House and the Boys and Girls Club in Lancaster, and washed cars to raise money to help support our trip to Kentucky. Some of us will end the week by joining in Shabbat dinner and services in the park. Between campers and staff, about half of our religious school will have shared in this experience.
I’ve spoken over and over again about the importance of Jewish camping in building Jewish identity. Learning isn’t done in a classroom; it’s accomplished by activities and discussion. Judaism is internalized as if it came as naturally as inhaling and exhaling. I would love to see our day camp population double its size. I would love to see every child in our congregation spend at least one 3 ½ week session at a Reform Movement camp. (We can add my desire to have every child visit the Religious Action Center, go on a mitzvah trip like the one we’re taking to Kentucky, participate in at least two NFTY events, and spend part of a summer in Israel.)
I live in a strange world. My colleagues in larger and wealthier congregations ask how our kids do so much. I want to ask you: How can we see to it that our kids do even more? Shortly after I arrived in town, we celebrated three anniversaries connected to our congregation’s history. Our theme, based on Jewish numerology (gematria), was Ner L’Atid, a candle or light to the future. Well, the children are our future, and I don’t want to settle for a candle anymore. I want a raging flame to illuminate that future for our kids so we can collectively honor our commitment to perpetuate our people mi-dor l’dor, from generation to generation.
Rabbi Jack Paskoff serves Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, PA.