The Wizard of Awes

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by Sam Pollak, Judaic Studies Director
For Kallah Bet 2014, our educational theme is “Miracles: Appreciating and Creating Change in the World.” All session long we will be studying miracles in Judaism. First, we are beginning with exploring how Jewish tradition uses blessings to help us notice miracles in the world, such as natural beauty, diversity, and the human body. In the second portion of our session, we will learn and analyze Jewish stories that tell of miraculous events, including Noah and the flood, the Exodus, the walls of Jericho, and the miracles performed by Elijah and Elisha. Finally, we will explore how humans can create miracles, as they do through science and medicine and through relationships. Our goal at the end of the session is for each of us to feel empowered to be the miracles in other peoples’ lives.
Today we kicked off our session of learning with an all-camp shiur (lesson). The program began with our unit heads asking each other how to make the summer the best one ever, one that would top all the other amazing summers they have spent at GUCI in the past. Facing a seemingly impossible task, they realized they needed a miracle! And to get that miracle, they turned to the Wizard of Awes.
The Wizard of Awes (voiced by Sam Pollak) agreed that he would give the unit heads the miracle of a fantastic summer, but he needed camp to be ready to receive the miracle. To that end, the Wizard challenged everyone to go out and learn what a miracle is and how to find it in the world.
After a discussion of how to define miracles, our Faculty rabbis and educators shared with the community how Judaism uses blessings to help us recognize miracles in the world. By thanking God in a blessing for something, we are invited to appreciate that thing as something beyond ordinary—something holy. One blessing we say frequently is the Shehecheyanu, which thanks God for allowing us to reach special occasions. We used this idea to practice finding miracles in the world, and each cabin went on its own “miracle hunt” around camp, looking for things that fit their definitions of miracle. When cabins found something they believed qualified as a miracle, they all joined together in reciting the Shehecheyanu.
In the end, the Wizard told the community that he was not yet convinced GUCI was ready to receive its miracle from him, since they still had a lot more to learn about miracles. The morning ended with a charge to go out and work toward a deeper understanding over the course of the session.
In the next weeks, our campers will be learning in their units through programs planned a led by their counselors, and we will also come together for more all-camp shiurim (lessons). Everyone is very excited to embark on this journey of learning, and we are all looking forward to finding out what more we can learn from the Wizard of Awes!
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