Jon Adam Ross is a widely acclaimed theater artist, founding company member of Storahtelling and the Northwoods Ramah Theater Company. As a highly sought-after artist in residence, Jon leads workshops and facilitates the creation of theater using physical and emotional exploration of stories from ancient Jewish narratives.
Summer camps may seem to only be ‘open’ in the summer. But from September to May, the full time staff are thinking all about the next Summer season up at camp and how it can be an even more successful summer for our campers and staff than the one before. Of course, once the campers arrive, the camp community becomes one that dwells in the now; “Carpe Diem” is right up there with “Everyone’s a Winner at insert camp name here”. One of the luxuries of all the hours of thoughtful planning that happens before the summer is that, come June, there is room for everyone to just have fun and enjoy every moment at camp. Campers and their families do a lot of planning preparation as well, from shopping for toiletries to packing and repacking duffel bags to pre-stamping their pre-addressed envelopes in the hope for letters home. But recently, while sitting in synagogue reading my chumash (Torah), I found myself pondering all this preparation. It was a few weeks ago, Parshat Bo was being read in shul (synagogue)…
The Israelites are in a tough spot. Not only are they slaves in Egypt, but there’s this leader named Moses who keeps advising them to pack their bags and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And nine times now, the Israelites have been forced to play a frustrating game of red light/green light; after each of the plagues, Pharaoh has relented in the face of God’s wrath, and then instantly reversed himself. It’s hard to plan for the future when you don’t know when the future will come. The Israelites are forced to live constantly in the moment. So much so, that when they finally do get to escape after the tenth and final plague, they do not even have time to let their bread rise and we get an entire delicious week free of chametz. But I noticed an obscure pasuk (verse) that put all of this planning and living into perspective.
This month shall be unto you the beginning of months;
it shall be the first month of the year to you. (Shemot Chapt 12, Verse 2)
It seems that God recognizes that the back and forth of the ten plagues might have planted the seeds for anxiety within the Israelites. I know…shocking. My neuroses goes all the way back to the Israelites in Egypt!? And here, all this time, I thought I inherited my anxiety from my Grandpa Marshall. God chooses this moment to talk about the calendar. How this month of Nisan is now a ‘first month of the year’, a new and fresh start for a people desperately in need of a clean slate. I often felt it jarring to hear this story of Pesach (Passover) read aloud each winter, so many months before I celebrate the seders with my family. But now it makes perfect sense to me. We just experienced the turning of a new year in the Roman calendar. And here we are learning about not just a new year in the Jewish calendar, but a new start for our people as they take steps toward freedom.
One can imagine the Israelites finally packing their belongings, loading bags on the backs of their camels. Our people were packing for what would turn out to be a 40 year journey in bags that, no doubt weighed about the same as some of the duffels that accompany campers on their pilgrimage to their summer haven. And, just as in the face of a camper about to head up to camp for the first, or second, or last time as a camper, one can imagine these Israelites…with one eye on the packing, and one eye on the future. A future when planning takes a backseat to living. I know it’s only February…but it’s okay. You may start packing now.