Crossing a Narrow Bridge: A Camp Kalsman Journey

This week, Ashley Marx, a former Kalsman camper and staff member, shares with us a D’var Torah, connecting this week’s Torah portion to the personal journey each camper and staff member has at Camp Kalsman and to her own personal journey to become a Jewish professional. Ashley is currently a student at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem where she is studying to become a Jewish educator.

Ashley, center, with her HUC classmates at the Kotel in Jerusalem.


In this week’s Parasha, Be-Shallah, the Israelites have just left Egypt and are journeying through the desert to the land of Israel. Though they are in an unfamiliar land, God remains with them and guides them.  As it is written:

ויהוה הלך לפניהם יומם בעמוד ענן לנחתם הדרך ולילה בעמוד אש…לא ימיש לפני העם”, The Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud by day to guide them along the way and a pillar of fire by night and it did not depart from the people (Exodus 13: 21-22).

The Midrash teaches that the Hebrew root from which this Parasha is named, שולח, means more than simply to send; God is accompanying the Israelites as they travel from the land of Egypt.

Though it’s not an expedition through the desert, a summer at camp and the Israelites journey have more in common than you might think. When campers arrive at camp, they too are leaving their homes and going somewhere new and unfamiliar. While it’s not 40 years in the desert, campers and staff alike journey from near and far to spend their summers at URJ Camp Kalsman. There is so much value in these experiences, where by doing something unfamiliar, whether it is leaving your home for the Promised Land or the promise of the fun awaiting at camp, the individual learns about their identity.  Camp provides daily opportunities for campers to face challenges in a safe environment, enabling the camper to grow from these experiences. In addition to overcoming these challenges, such as reaching the top of the 50-foot tower when one previously thought this was an unattainable feat, camp presents many occasions for one to discover his or her identity, whether it is learning a love of Jewish prayer from daily t’filah or discovering a connection to Israel by forging a relationship with the Israeli Shlichim. Campers are able to reach these discoveries because of the guidance provided by the camp staff, who serve, metaphorically speaking, as Kalsman’s pillars of cloud and fire. The journey taken by the Israelites, from Egypt to Sinai and through the wilderness to Zion represents great physical strength. But no less important is the journey taken each summer at camp, from June to August, where campers reach new levels of Jewish identity, connection to nature, relationship with Israel, and a renewed sense of self.

Like the Israelites and our community at camp, I too am on a journey this year. I left my home, family, friends, and community to move across the world to study at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. I would not have gotten to this place without camp serving as my personal pillars of cloud and fire. Just as at Kalsman, I face trials at HUC, but when I am in a trying situation I remember what I learned at camp and use it to help. When I am homesick, I remember the camper who overcame their own homesickness to have an incredible summer. If I feel lost in my new community, I think of the amazing bonds that I have seen campers and staff form in remarkably short periods of time. Living in Israel, I struggle with my connection to the Jewish home but because of the summers that I have spent at camp,  I have many Israeli friends  who live here that  I can use as a resource to further understand that State of Israel. These realizations would not be possible if not for the experiences provided to me at camp, the relationships that I formed and the incredible community that takes shape every summer in Arlington, Washington.

Ashley, far left, and her co-counselors Leah, Maia, and Anna ready for Shabbat during Summer 2012.

We have just begun the year 2014. What journeys will you take this year? Will they be physical, like camp or traveling to Israel? Perhaps they will be less concrete and more spiritual. A favorite song we sing at camp reads “כל העולם כלו גשר צר מאד והעקר לא לפחד כל”; “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, the most important thing is not to be afraid.” Wherever you go, may your journey, like camp, offer opportunities to learn and grow and serve as a foundation for journeys to come.

Happy New Year and Shabbat Shalom.

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