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Bringing Two to Ten

As human beings, we have grown accustomed to the cycle of time. We find ways to mark significance, to make meaning of the days that roll in one after the next. What becomes comforting can also be the most jarring when the system is disrupted, when we can no longer have faith in the ways we believe our lives are meant to function.

This past week, the Union for Reform Judaism announced that all summer programming would not take place (in person) this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including summer camps and trips to Israel. In one fell swoop, the next several months of Reform Jewish life seemingly evaporated, leaving grief and mourning in the place where joy and comfort were meant to be. It was the safest call, one in which we can have pride knowing our leaders are willing to do what is right, even when it is hard. The decision makes sense, but the world it leaves behind does not. For so many, the summer is a 12 week period in which we get a year’s supply of happiness, of spirituality, of Judaism; what are we going to do now that the way we’ve always done it isn’t going to cut it?

We are going to need our Jewish communal spaces to step up in a huge way in the coming weeks. During a time when we feel as distant as ever, we are going to have to reach out, to check in on and support one another. We are going to have to find new ways to deliver spiritual guidance and religious ritual to our young ones who come back from camp every year exponentially more Jewishly literature, and for the adults who are reminded year after year of their love for their faith and tradition in the first place. The creativity this will require is immense; we are going to have to figure out how to distill the best parts of camp into a format that is deliverable, that is capable of being felt across space, time, and zoom. And yes, we are going to have to figure out our finances, the way we use money to live out our values, supporting the institutions that have invested so much in us and now need us, as best we can, to return the favor.

As hard as it may seem, it is the Judaism that camp made possible for us that will save us during this troubled time. Jewish tradition is well aware of marking time. It gives us a language for our grief, an acknowledgement of the time it takes to heal in the aftermath of loss. Judaism gives us the language of chesed, of grace and kindness, that will help us be there for one another during this time. And Judaism is well familiar with the kind of change and adaptation that we will need, for Judaism has always been asked to bend, move, and shift based on the needs of us Jews living it in our daily lives.

I have camp to thank for the best things in my life. I have a career because of the lessons I learned at camp, and a job because of the community that I discovered through a shared love of camp. I met and married my wife at camp, created lifelong friendships there. And I became the thoughtfully engaged Jew I am today because of the lessons camp had to offer, the same lessons that are going to help me be there to support my community which is hurting, and to find my own way through this dark, scary time.

It is a common camp expression that we live ten months of the year to get to the best two. This year, we are going to have to figure out how to bring our best selves into the months that are going to feel longer and harder, in the hopes that we might know the joy that camp has given as a gift so many times. We are who we are because of these spaces; now we owe it to them to be our best selves while we can’t be there.

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