What do you DO?

By Alison Lewin, Director of Education at Emanuel Congregation of Chicago, and Tiferet Segel

The same thing happens every June.  I start telling people that I am going back to camp (now as a faculty member, though I began as a camper 20 years ago in Tzofim Gimmel 1994).  The question inevitably follows:  “What do you DO when you’re there?”  The answer is anything but simple.hand

Only at camp could my job seamlessly flow from turning Rambam into a snake-charmer, to introducing kids to 90’s feminist music a la Joan Osborne, to creating henna “tattoos” without skipping a beat.  I am loving being back in Tiferet for my second faculty summer, home of our arts programs and some of OSRUI’s most fascinating chanichim (campers) and tzevet (staff).

This summer we are studying “Sephardi Jewry” in Tiferet—a heavy topic that comes with a complicated challenge:  How do we teach the experience of our coreligionists from so many centuries ago in a way that helps the lessons of their lives come alive for our students?  Today, we transported the campers back in time to the 16th century, to the lives of the Sephardi Jews who had settled respectively in Rome, Istanbul, Casablanca, and Jerusalem after leaving the Iberian Peninsula.  In each city, campers learned about the history of the Jews in that city, an art form that emerged from that location, and how Jews merged the local art form with their own beliefs and embraced the new form of artistic expression.  Did you know, for example, that a Jewish man named Solomon of Udine was the Turkish ambassador to Italy and was so influential, he managed to have several Italian edicts of expulsion reversed?  Or that the Jews of Morocco adopted the tradition of henna painting to symbolize good fortune for anyone celebrating a life cycle event such as a wedding or Bar Mitzvah?  The lesson is that we can infuse society with Judaism and beauty wherever we are.

So I’m sure next summer, someone again will ask, “So, when you go to camp in the summer, what do you DO?”  The answer is:  I bring Judaism to life for children, create excitement out of the familiar, and introduce children to the unfamiliar.”  So far this week, I have turned Rambam into a snake-charmer* and covered the hands of campers in henna designs.  What will the next week bring?

* Moses Maimonides, aka Rambam, was a quintessential renaissance main.  In researching his work we learned that he catalogued the poisonous venoms from a series of snakes.  This in addition to practicing medicine, leading Cairo’s Jewish community, and codifying the Mishneh Torah.

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