"Are we there yet?" As a Jewish youth professional who spends a fair amount of time travelling with groups of all ages, I've heard this question only a few times. In this week's parashiyot, we catch-up with the Israelites as they near the Promised Land after forty years since leaving Egypt. Generations have passed, and they have matured into a nation ready for the next challenges that lie ahead. They look back, reviewing where they have been, and quickly turn to the future. What are the tasks that lie ahead? What are the plans to move forward as the journey nears completion?
At camp, we mark time in different ways. While our daily schedule keeps us moving from activities to meals and everything in between, there are also specific days on our calendars. Just a few examples are:
Crazy hat day.
Yesterday was that funny period of time in the camp calendar called "Intersession." Two weeks (one session) down. Four (two) to go. We've accomplished so much, and we have more that lies ahead. What better opportunity to take a few minutes to sit, breathe, grab an iced coffee and reflect on all that we've already done this summer.
We've come a long way, from where we began. Check it out on our blog >>
Summer #2 at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy blasted off with a great sense of ruach (spirit). Our campers were busy making new friends from 24 different states and 3 countries, getting sweaty from singing and dancing at song session, learning new skills and tools, building a catapult while learning about kinetics, creating music videos, learning how to program in Minecraft, flying rockets and drones, learning about fermentation and food science, working with a doctor to study how our bodies react to exercise and activity...and the list goes on.
We've come a long way, from where we began.
Wrapping-up another book of Torah, we say "chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek" -- be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened. We have already built so much this summer as a Sci-Tech community. As we begin Session 2, let us go from strength to strength and continue to build upon this foundation as we explore, innovate, create, discover, connect and find joy as a kehilah kedoshah (holy community).
Are we there yet? Yes. We are there, and we will keep going! I'll write more later...but we're about to open the gates for Session 2!
The words we say at the beginning of our morning t'filah are quite recognizable as a blessing:
When Balam (wicked sorcerer) was hired by Balak (king of Moab) to curse the Israelites as they passed through his kingdom on their way to Canaan, what actually came out was a blessing. We interpret these words in a myriad of ways, acknowledging the blessing of community and the roles that each unique member plays. Or, maybe focusing on our obligation to be blessings throughout our daily lives. (Genesis 12:2)
While we sometimes interchange the words tents and dwellings, tents are temporary shelters that are relocatable, while we know dwellings to be a bit more permanent and sturdy. As we prepared for our second summer at URJ Sci-Tech Academy, I found myself thinking about space a lot. Not only do we approach our use of space throughout our camp season quite intentionally, we also have the task of transforming our beautiful space at Governor's Academy back into our summer home after spending 9 months away - and recreating a space that represents our values and fosters holy community.
While I would not go as far as to say that we spend our summer in one gigantic tent, it is quite remarkable to think about the transformation that occurs at both the beginning and end of our summer. Walking onto camp, it still very much looking like a school, and we work together to rebuild what we left last summer. From road signs to posters to room set-ups to supplies and then some, our leadership team and staff does it all.
But what exactly goes into our dwelling that makes it one of blessing? As I spent the last few days walking around camp, hanging out with campers and staff and watching our second summer come to life, I've gravitated towards a few answers...
Our Gesher Tzar Meod (Very Narrow Bridge) connects our main campus to where our boys and some of our leadership team lives. We took advantage of this opportunity to name it appropriately, and I believe that it also represents the journey that many of us take as we experience new things and different places. Part of the magic of camp is helping every member of our community stretch their comfort zones and experience new things. As Rabbi Nachman teaches us, the most important thing is not to be afraid as we exist in our world that sometimes looks and feels like a narrow bridge. Also: don't forget to sing while crossing it!
This summer, we gave our Livnot (Hebrew verb: "to build") period a home with the creation of our Maker Space. With a foundation of design thinking and community building, campers and staff enter this space on camp with the charge to think differently and outside of the box, design, explore, create, build, assess, problem solve and innovate. A new component at Sci-Tech this summer, it is very much still in a beta stage and we are excited to continue to add to and modify what it is and how it helps us enhance our experiences at camp. From inventing to building to creating innovative Shabbat experiences for our camp community, this place on camp is one that we can all learn from.
As we prepare for our first Shabbat of the summer as a camp community, my blessings are abundant in this place in which I dwell. Our campers are excited and empowered. Our staff is enthusiastic and innovative. Our community is holy. It's nice to be back home. Shabbat Shalom!
Balance is interaction among being, feeling, thinking and doing. Superheroes integrate those four core stages of existence amid the turbulence of the world and daily activity, and in doing so, are able to creatively solve every challenge they are faced with and create an atmosphere of empowerment and love wherever they are. - Deepak Chopra
Camp is the place I go to block out the turbulence of the world.
Camp is the place where I go to help inspire the next generation of superheroes.
Camp is the place where I learned how to hone my ability to understand, connect, love myself and others, search, appreciate, problem solve and explore.
Camp is the place where I feel the most like me.
The Sh'ma is said by Jews across the world. Whether or not we have much in common beyond our connection to the larger fabric of Jewish history and people hood, this simple yet complex statement connects us deeply with our people and tradition. Listen to it. Listen to you. Listen to us. We are one. God is one. So - even just for a moment - block out all the other noise and be one.
Think about who you can be this summer and how you can help others become the best versions of themselves. Shabbat Shalom from camp. Staff week is awesome.
Plague. Rebellion. Tithe. No...I'm not talking about final exams before the proverbial bells sound to signal the beginning of summer break. In this week's parashah, we read the story of Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32), who leads a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. God punishes the rebels, brings a plague on the people, and we see the many challenges of leadership and faith.
Following this unrest, the chief of each tribe [of the people of Israel] deposits his staff inside the Tent of Meeting. Aaron's staff brings forth sprouts, produces blossoms, and bears almonds. (17:16-26) He is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. After playing #2 to his brother Moses through their journey, Aaron is recognized for his leadership - an act that is important for both the people as well as himself.
As I am packing for camp and many of my friends and colleagues have already begun their staff training at camps across the country, I have been thinking about how we can show kavod (respect) and provide validation for the hard work our staff does throughout the summer. Where do we find our "sprouted almonds" amidst the busy schedules and activities at camp? We find inspiration and gratitude in different places and at varying times. Sometimes it's during an interaction or experience we have with others, and other times we may gain it independently.
A year ago, URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy was a bunch of thoughts, plans, ideas and intentions. We then went on to create a new holy community - one for which I am extremely grateful to be a part of. While reading this piece of Torah a year ago, I was nervous and excited as I met new people and took on new responsibilities. Fast forward a year, and I am reading it again but with significant pride and knowledge that we will be continuing to add to the Torah and community that we created together. Quite the Shehecheyanu moment, indeed.
Along with the socks and bug spray, I am packing a few additional things this year. Gratitude for the talented people I have the opportunity to work with and learn from. Respect for the holy work that we get to do together, and what each one of us brings to the community. Recognition for the gifts and blessings that are abundant on our team. And a renewed sense of excitement and enthusiasm as I look forward to exploring, creating, building and discovering with my 6 Points Sci-Tech family.
17 years. I'm a very different person, and Israel is a very different state since the last time I was there as a participant with NFTY L'Dor V'Dor! I am beyond excited to be staffing a Taglit Birthright trip with URJ Kesher, and will be blogging regularly with my participants as we explore, discover and connect to our Jewish homeland.
Follow along with us >>
Learn more about URJ Kesher & the Taglit Birthright experience >>
I'm in NYC for a hot minute attending training to lead a Birthright Israel experience this winter. After a relaxing (yet highly productive) train ride through the foliage of New England, I arrived at Penn Station ready to go. Heading toward the exit to hop in a cab, I stop. Right in front of me is a colleague/former camper/friend of mine. [Mind blown.]
In a building with thousands of people running, balancing their coffee and food while heading to catch their trains or scurrying off to their various destinations, I literally walked into someone I knew. Acknowledging the cliche, Larry Milder's lyrics "Wherever you go...there's always someone Jewish" immediately popped into my mind. I find it amazing that I was in this enormous city for a whole five minutes, and I had already found a familiar face. Jewish geography...more like Jewish GPS ninja skills!
Today's training was informative, exciting and important, as I take my first steps to trying something new - travelling to Israel for the first time in my career, and leading 40 young adults in a transformative and exciting chapter in their Jewish journeys. I am approaching this entire experience much like I did the last (and only) time I was in Israel, back in 1998 as a 16 year old who was just beginning to chart out his journey. I am soaking it all in, listening, and connecting the dots to the work I do in youth engagement and experiential Jewish education throughout the year. And as I hear the cars and pedestrians outside my hotel window in the city that never sleeps, I smile, excited to continue the journey tomorrow.
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." One of my favorite childhood movies, I am finding Ferris Bueller's words to resonate with where I am and how I'm feeling. We're always running. Moving. En route to the next place, thing or task. When does it stop?
I haven't blogged in months. Not because I haven't wanted to or had thoughts I wish I could share, but because I haven't been able to prioritize a frequent opportunity for sitting, thinking and writing. Now that I've typed those words, I'm cringing and questioning why my internal alarm hadn't sounded before now.
Wrapping-up another "day off" from work where I had a constant flow of work-related thoughts as I was catching-up on a few things on the personal side of the fence, I came across two articles that are very much connected:
The Disease of Being Busy
Mindful Moments in a Multitasking World
I read the articles. I posted one of them on social media and then I stopped. I read the comments. All of them. Scrolling through dozens of personal stories and connections, I am reminded once again that we are not alone on the journey. And while, at times, we feel that we are, I still wonder why. Why are we caught in this race-to-nowhere culture? Why do I feel bad when I want to schedule a lunch date or coffee with a friend while I know that my to-do list is waiting for me? Why don't we do something about it?
Today is Friday. Tonight is Shabbat Vayeira. Just a little bit of drama in this one (!) with Abraham arguing with God, Lot's home is attacked and his wife is turned into a pillar of salt, and there's a great deal of family-related crap to boot. Ultimately, God tests Abraham, instructing him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. Skipping over some pretty juicy parts of the story, this summary is only half of what's happening here. So what am I taking from the text this week, in connection to where I currently am?
Abraham gets educated on what is right and just.
It's not in the lesson, but in the journey that he figures it out.
He is confident that there is good among the evil.
While we're running around, we don't always see what's happening around us. We don't always hear what we need to be listening to. We don't always take time to appreciate what is not sticking out in front of us. So, maybe, in the coming week, we can try to do the following:
Listen a little more carefully.
Silence the unnecessary noise for just long enough to discover something new.
Find an answer to a question that's been present.
Remember that there is good...even if you have to search among the bad.
[Originally posted on the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy Blog]
Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. He is reconfirmed through the test of the staves in which Aaron’s staff miraculously sprouted almonds. (Numbers 17:16-24)
Yesterday, I drove to a new place. In 11 days, this place will become a new Jewish overnight camp. In between these two spaces in time, we have A LOT of work to do. I am feeling incredibly blessed to be in this place, at this time, with these people and doing what I love. We’re creating a camp. We have an amazingly talented leadership team, and I am in awe of the insight and creativity that surround me. I’m developing systems and protocol and schedules that will help provide the tools our staff needs to make this place come alive and support the transformative experiences that will undoubtedly be part of this summers’ narrative for both our campers and staff. I am vastly aware of the sprouted almonds in my life. I am beyond excited, and while I’ve been here for just over 24 hours, I haven’t been able to catch my breath…until now. It’s almost Shabbat. While we will continue to dream, build and create, it will be in lockstep with opportunities to reflect, recharge and renew our excitement for the holy work we will be doing over the next week. Throughout this inaugural summer at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, we will have the ability to make magic happen. And for this first Shabbat at camp, I’m thinking a lot about how I can help our staff team be the best we can be, and how we can give some of our “sprouted almonds” to each other as we begin this journey.
View original post >>
[Originally posted on the TBE Youth Community Blog]
Today was supposed to be a special day. It was Patriot's Day...aka Marathon Monday, the Boston-created holiday that pays tribute to our history and our community. Many of us were doing what the majority of Bostonians were doing: enjoying our day off from work/school and spending time with family and friends. After taking in the sights for a few hours, I made my way home and turned on the television to watch the rest of the race while planning to catch-up on some things around the apartment. And then the texts started coming in...
"Are you ok?"
"What's going on?"
"We're watching the news...what is happening?"
"Tell me you're at home and not in the city."
I didn't want to sit glued to social media and my television following the updates that were streaming in all afternoon. I didn't want to call and text my friends and family to make sure they were okay. And after trying to digest everything for the past few hours while we coordinated communication efforts for our temple community, I certainly didn't want to turn the computer on to write this. I wanted to jump in the car, drive back to Boston, and help. I felt both helpless and hopeful all at the same time. I wanted to go donate blood, help direct traffic and lend a hand where I could.
From our local authorities: stay away. We're getting the situation under control and working with many partners to ensure the safety of everyone involved and at home.
From the Red Cross: blood banks are currently full, thanks to the immediate support of runners and people in the area. Check back to donate in the future.
Our world is so fractured. I immediately started to think out loud, "this is Boston. This is home. How could this happen here?" I then thought back to the last blog post I wrote, unfortunately of similar nature. And while I have immense difficulty coming to terms with why something so bad would happen on a day that is supposed to be so good, I have hope. Inspiring does not even begin to describe the concept of athletes finishing a marathon running through the finish line directly to donate blood for those neighbors in need. Our first responders rocked it, quickly helping to create order and bring support in a very tough situation. "Boston is a tough, resilient and proud town." Yes, President Obama, we are. But we also are extremely lucky to have received the out-pour of love and support within minutes of this tragic event from our friends and family around the country and world. And for all of this to happen on Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut...as we remember, honor and celebrate our brothers and sisters in Israel, who know this type of situation all too well. And to the point that the American media make reference to their training on how to handle such situations. Wow.
So after the initial shock, after the emails, after the texts and phone calls, and after taking some time to simply sit and think, I created this for our community:
A prayer, a request, a hope. If you're in the area and available on Tuesday evening, please join us at Temple Beth Elohim. Let's come together and bring some light into the darkness. I know how thankful I am for the love I receive from my friends and family, for being part of our TBE community and the amazing greater Boston Jewish community, and for the overwhelming support and outreach that we've received from family and friends from all over. As we think about those who are in need of support during this difficult time, let's talk to our children about what's going on. If you or someone you know needs support during this difficult time, please contact a member of our TBE Clergy Team. And let's pray a little louder. Hug a little tighter. And hope for peace.
View original post >>
Today began like any other Friday. I got up, excited to celebrate Chanukah with the TBE community this evening. I got to school. Studied. Went to class. But during my class, my phone was vibrating and glowing with notifications. I sat there for two hours trying to pay attention to my classmates, as my mind kept drifting to places outside the classroom. I was thinking about the students, educators and administrators of Newtown, CT. I was thinking about the local officials trying to help a community facing such tragedy. But I was also thinking about my kids. No, I'm not a parent. But I have the honor of working with thousands of youth throughout the year. They're my kids. They're our kids. I want to make the world a better place for them. And I can't even begin to understand what's going on in Connecticut right now. I exchanged greetings with my classmates, and ran to my car to turn on my radio. I sat in my car and listened. I listened to parents crying. I listened to members of a shaken community asking why such a thing would happen, and why it had to be them. I listened to an emotional President address our nation:
And then my mom called. Even though I'm 30, and am in the middle of finals in my grad program at school, some things don't really change. Ever. It's nice when your mom calls you when you're upset about something. I'm thinking about the young lives that were lost. I'm thinking about a community that needs a whole lot of love and support right now. And I'm thinking about the program I ran for NFTY Northeast when I was an Overall at December Institute my senior year of high school where I had my peers write letters to their local officials asking for stronger laws around gun control. That was 12 years ago.
But right now, our Junior Youth Groupers are having a blast at their Chanukah Extravaganza. Our community will light the Chanukiyah and celebrate the 7th night of Chanukah and Shabbat with song, community and plenty of delicious fried food. And on Sunday, we'll gather to celebrate the end of the holiday, engaging in acts of tikkun olam and enjoying the music of Safam. We have much to be thankful for. And yet, our hearts and prayers are with those in Newtown. As we light our Chanukiyot and Shabbat candles, may some of our light illuminate our fractured world. May those affected by this tragedy find some form of shalom this Shabbat. And may we hug our friends and family a little tighter, sing a little louder and come together and continue our efforts to make this world a better place.
I hope you'll join us tonight and on Sunday. More information can be found on our website: http://tbeyouth.org/chanukah. Also, here are some articles and resources worth checking out:
RJ.org: Coming Together After Tragedy
Union for Reform Judaism: Bereavement
Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism:
Reform Movement Horrified by CT School Shooting; Reaffirms Call for Sensible Gun Control
The Jewish Bereavement Project
NFTY: Reflecting on Tragedy
Zichronam Livracha - may the memories of the departed be for a blessing.