A colleague recently voiced frustration that “mitzvah” has been mis-translated as “good deed” instead of “commandment.” I agreed, griping in tandem. And then…this happened: In the Davis Academy Middle School Sukkah, we fulfilled a series of commandments, and it felt like such a good deed! What a joy for the students who signed up to host and entertain participants in a Jewish Family & Career Services program for adults with developmental disabilities.
We started out by having our Jewish Life Leadership students understand what the program would entail for them and for their classmates. Then, they agreed to advertise it in one of our all-school Tefillah programs. Sign up sheets went up and kids from 6th, 7th, and 8th grade signed their names, checking with multiple teachers to make sure that they could miss classes during the time of the activity.
They prepared themselves by asking questions and gathering at 15 minutes early on the day our guests were slated to arrive. They asked such important, thoughtful, kind questions:
“What kind of disabilities will they have?”
“What if they’re gluten-free?”
“Can I eat my lunch while they’re eating?”
I asked the students if they could name all of the mitzvot – commandments – that they were doing. The most interesting question that came up was about bikur cholim, visiting the sick. A student asked if we were visiting the sick, because our guests have disabilities. In our open group discussion, we found that while our guests may have certain limitations, they’re not actually sick and in need of healing. Thus, we settled on building community, kehillah, one of our school’s core values, in addition to the mitzvot of welcoming guests and welcoming guests into their sukkah.
When our guests arrived, students were eager to welcome them, peeking out of the front door of the school, bopping around with smiles on their faces, and leaping to introduce themselves to their new friends. Students offered to fill out their new friends’ guest name tags, and went in pairs downstairs to lunch. It was a little too soggy out at the sukkah, due to pretty gloomy weather, so we ate lunch in our cafeteria alongside our entire 6th grade. Escorted through our lunch line (on pizza day!), our guests filled their plates with food and filled their tables with conversation. Some residents were less verbal and some were more loquacious, but every Davis Academy student asked and answered questions, telling stories and learning about their new friends.
After lunch, and clearing off the tables, our students, joined by an 8th grade Hebrew class, escorted our guests outside to our sukkah. Luckily, the skies were clearing, and as a group, we were able to stand in the sukkah, learn a bit about its construction, and learn and follow along with the blessings for shaking the etrog and lulav. Many, if not all, of our guests were not Jewish, and had never been exposed to this holiday, and many were tickled by the exposed sky through the sukkah’s schach, in this case, a bamboo roof.
At the end of the program, students and guests hugged and smiled, posed for pictures, and bid each other farewell. Guests chattered happily with their staff members as they left for the next part of their day, and our students went back to class with their hearts full and eyes gleaming with happiness. They all felt so good for what they had been able to do, and that through these commandments, they had done a good deed.
I’ve been involved with the Foundation for Jewish Camp for a long time. I’m a Nadiv educator (working in a shared job between URJ Camp Coleman and The Davis Academy, a day school in Atlanta), I’ve worked on the Cornerstone Fellowship program for years, and I even worked in the NY office. As a result, I know many, many people involved in the programs. What’s awesome is when they come to visit me!
Recently, an Atlanta camp fair brought a number of my colleagues into town. First, my URJ 6 Points SciTech colleague (and former Coleman programmer) Robbie Berg, let me know he’d be in town. Since Robbie had visited Davis before, we discussed bringing him in to do something exciting for the middle school kids in Tefillah. More camps signed up for the camp fair, and the emails kept coming! Other camp people from around the country – my incubator friends – wanted to come teach at Davis! SciTech is just one of the latest crop of incubator camps – and Mara Berde from JCC Maccabi Sports Camp and Dan Baer from Camp, Inc. wanted to come and learn with the students at Davis. We worked out interest-based Tefillah, where each kid got a taste of the incubator camp offerings. Twenty minutes were dedicated to your topic of choice – SciTech, Business or Sports – and then 10 minutes to the other two options.
For 40 minutes, students scribbled ideas about their potential businesses and their “special sauce” secrets to success. Students squealed with delight at the SciTech Boker Big Bang pops and explosions, and students shouted with ruach for whomever bested them in rock-paper-scissors (which is apparently called Rochambeau on the West Coast). There were business conversations, scientific hypothesizing, and sportsmanship chatter. Each Incubator related their work to Jewish topics, such as philanthropy, ruach, caring for your body, and the daily morning blessing of thanks for being made a free person.
It just so happens that Mara and Robbie are two of the most influential educators I’ve ever had the pleasure to learn from and work with in my life, and Dan and I have also had positive interactions for years. What a blessing to be able to share these friends with my amazing students! What a cool school to trust me to bring in cool campy people, ready to make a difference and have some fun. I’m so glad that the Foundation for Jewish Camp keeps finding ways for me to share my friends, and their genius, with others!
As the summer drew to a close, I took a picture with the other Nadiv Educator at my camp. He’s a 6th grader now, and he spends his whole year with me. He’s a full-summer camper at Coleman, a camp with mostly 4-weekers, and he’s a student at Davis.
— SBB (@sbbEZas123) August 3, 2014
When I told him he was also a Nadiv Educator, the conversation went like this:
SBB: A, did you notice that you’re a Nadiv Educator, also?
A: What do you mean?
SBB: You spend your whole year with me. You’re at camp all summer and at Davis all year long!
A: Yes, but I don’t *work* at Davis.
SBB: I’m not going to tell your teachers that!
This partnership is fun, and kind of funny.
Fun, because I’m surrounded by dedicated educators, clergy and staff – and delightful children – all year long.
Fun, because I get to do cool things like take the whole 8th grade up to camp for two full days.
Fun AND funny, because people tend to listen when I refer to the Torah as “Our Very Best Friend the Torah” (a nickname for the 5 Books of Moses that I got from a co-staff member at a camp in Wisconsin).
Funny, because I can compare a 6th grader to myself.
Funny, because when you’re the campy person at school, you tend to write lines like this in emails: “I’m totally coming at this from a place of campy ruach in song session (as opposed to Tefillah) which is nearly deafening in terms of exuberance and joy.” May I present to you: the combination of academic nerdery and experiential education.
This job is extremely fast-paced, sometimes excruciatingly so. But as long as I’m working on stuff like Tefillahpalooza, Interfaith Volunteering, and innovative, large-scale educational experiences like Yom Partisans, I’m up to the challenge. I can’t wait to see what kind of cool stuff I’ll get to learn and teach this year!
Back in October, we tried something new at the day school half of my job: Tefillahpalooza. You can read the post I wrote about it on the Canteen.
In conversations about how best to
#nadiviate (it’s a thing!), bridging my work between camp and school, my Coleman colleagues became enamored with the idea of having our own Coleman Tefillahpalooza. Another conversation about revitalizing tefillah at camp led us to creating a program called Hot ShoTz (a Sho”Tz is short for Shaliach Tzibur, the title of a service leader who represents the community by shepherding people through the prayer process.).
Our Assistant Program Director Scott Gellman, an HUC Rabbinical student and a Coleman person for decades, helped to develop all of the answers, and he had his work cut out for him. First, what was Hot ShoTz going to be about? Who would do it? How would we develop skills, not just as a ShoTz, but as an emerging leader in camp? What kind of materials would we present to our Hot ShoTz? And, what would be their final project?
Hot ShoTz consisted of our programming staff, songleading staff, and assorted volunteers. All were interested in developing prayer and leadership skills. Some had just arrived at camp for the first time in May, many were seasoned NFTY/youth group/camp graduates, and some have been counselors and programmers for years. Formulated and led by different clergy, under the watchful eye of Scott, Hot ShoTz sessions on Shabbat helped teach skills and examine the meaning and intention behind our services at camp.
As summer was drawing to a close, we knew the Hot ShoTz were ready to shine. Each participant was asked to choose a buddy and to prepare a Tefillah experience to be offered to a small group of campers, in their final project: Tefillahpalooza. In addition to 6 faculty offerings, there were 9 Hot ShoTz services to choose from at camp that morning!
The logistical challenges of sending the 650 members of our community to 15 different services were many: Campers are always supervised by staff at camp, even on a simple walk to another location. Locations were strewn all around camp. Campers needing to get to the lake or the pool after being out in the ropes course. What if it rains? But with careful work by Scott, and with the help of sign-ups with “Concert Stickets” (ticket stickers with name of service, location, unit and bunk number), everybody distributed with ease.
For 50 minutes after breakfast on Thursday morning, our Hot ShoTz (and our faculty) showed their stuff, and offered equally engaging experiential Tefillah programs in areas as diverse as playdough prayer, writing their own stories prayer, Cold-Pray (a Coldplay service), Improv, and “The Theatre is Our Temple,” where campers had a chance to examine and discuss movie and TV clips that portrayed Judaism.
After a summer of hard work and learning, everybody in the Coleman community got to see just how hot our Hot ShoTz are. And we can’t wait to have another Tefillahpalooza next summer!
Papers were flying and staples were clamping, stickers were delivered, and DVDs were organized. Another summer, and therefore, another fast day was upon us. It was dinner on the 14th of July in Cleveland, GA, and it was time to frame Yom HaPartisanim, or, as we’ve been calling it, Yom Partisans.
For the past two years at URJ Camp Coleman, we have done a dedicated day of Jewish learning to commemorate the holy, solemn days of Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) and/or Shiva Asar B’Tammuz (17th of Tammuz). Last year our campers learned about a non-Jewish man who wrote visas to allow Jews to escape from Lithuania during the Holocaust. You can read about it on last year’s day of learning blog entry!
This year, as the cheers for Letter Lotto (a beloved write-mail-and-you-might-win-you-a-towel program) quieted down, I spoke to our population of 650, introducing Ruth Bielski Ehrreich, the daughter of Tuvia Bielski (played in the movie by James Bond, Daniel Craig in the movie Defiance):
“Tomorrow is a Jewish holy-day called the 17th of Tammuz, not a holiday, that commemorates bad things that happened to the Jewish people, like the beginning of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem thousands of years ago. On the 17th of Tammuz, traditionally, we fast and learn about Jewish history. At URJ Camp Coleman, we have a dedicated day of learning. Tomorrow, we’ll be learning about the Jewish Partisans who fought against the Nazis during the Holocaust, during WWII. We have a visitor here with us who is going to help us learn about her family, the Bielskis, that led a group of 1200 Jewish Partisans during the Holocaust. There was a movie called Defiance about the Bielskis’ story. Check out the trailer:
Throughout the day of the 17th of Tammuz (July 15th), there was Partisan learning happening around camp, thanks to Ruth, thanks to our unit programmers and staff, thanks to our faculty, and thanks to the help of the Jewish Partisans Education Foundation. Unit programming that day was about the Partisans and the realities of living in the forest for three years. Younger campers learned about what it was like for the Partisans to live in the woods and how they decoded messages and confused the Germans, our middle school kids learned about leadership, history and ethics of the Partisans, and our oldest campers learned about the women in the Partisans. Every meal featured at least a video, if not a discussion question, about different parts of Defiance or short films about the Partisans. Evening services were leadership and heroism themed, and every group in camp had a chance to listen to Ruth telling her story over the course of the day.
For our oldest 3 units’ evening program, groups were divided with kids in every grade, counselors, faculty and other staff facilitated debates about tough moral choices and leaving ghettos to join the Partisans. As the sun set, our oldest campers were conversing respectfully, and listening carefully as Ruth told her family’s moving story.
Over the course of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz, the Bielski story was shared with 650 people in the Coleman community. Each learned something age-appropriate, and each will walk away from this summer remembering that while bad things happened to the Jews, we always fought back. Another day of learning has come and gone, but the lessons will remain. We will never forget.
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The Davis Academy’s 4th grade team, interested in making a wellness-related impact in Atlanta and in Israel, raised a lot of money to donate to ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem. They helped those in Atlanta and in Israel. Here’s the field report from my shaliach mitzvah (mitzvah representative) adventure in Jerusalem…
First step was collecting the money, which the 4th graders did persistently all year.
Second step was figuring out the logistics. I collected a card from the 4th graders to share when I got to Israel, got the total of money to spend, a list of what to spend it on, and was connected to our friends at ALYN Hospital by the 4th grade team.
Third step was actual, on the ground logistics. I converted the dollar amount to shekels, asked for store recommendations from Israeli friends, and made my way to a store near the famous Machane Yehuda shuk with a few of my camp colleagues. After eating some rugelach and assorted free samples, things started to get interesting: it took around 1 hour, 2 shopkeepers, 2 Nadiv Educators, 1 URJ Camp Assistant Director, a number of baskets and 2 calculators to buy all of the supplies on the list. (Thanks to my colleagues at URJ Camp Kalsman for their help!)
I left the store with bags and bags of every possible craft supply you could want – acrylic paint, pipe cleaners, paint brushes, watercolors, crayons, markers, crepe paper, cellophane, feathers, ribbons, beads, stickers…stickers…more stickers! My shoulders ache(d) with the weight of the tzedek/righteousness of 70 Atlanta children.
The next day, I was ready for the fourth and final step. I asked another camp friend (everywhere you turn in Israel, you find a camp friend!) who is studying to be a rabbi to help me carry all of the craft supplies to ALYN, to share the weight and the love. I was welcomed with a banner that had my name on it, and we were given a comprehensive tour of the facility. ALYN hospital is so many things – a rehabilitation center, a hospital, a school, a place for families, a place where secular and religious Jews and Arabs all work together to help kids recover from accidents and illness. Smiles abound in this brightly-decorated and highly vibrant building. Those who can are encouraged to cycle around the hospital – not quite able to walk, they strive to be more independent and mobile.
The thanks were many and often as we walked around the hospital. Many people – in the craft store, in ALYN, in the taxis necessary for the shlep – were so grateful (in both Hebrew and English!). I’m just the shlicha mitzvah, a person delivering a mitzvah for others, I said. These weren’t my supplies, wasn’t my money that I was spending, wasn’t my idea. I was just representing the 4th grade teachers, students and families, and I was so proud to work with them at my school. Regardless, I was treated like a hero, as were my friends and colleagues who helped me along the way. “I’m so proud to work with them,” I said.
Who are the heroes?
The 4th grade team for raising the money and figuring out where to donate – and for making a card to send with the supplies before I left on my trip!
The people who are committed to social justice and tzedek/righteousness, the people who masterminded an international mitzvah, and those who daily think about how to make things better for others.
The doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers, social workers, development professionals, security guards, families and patients at ALYN Hospital.
Thanks, 4th grade team, for letting me be a part of this holy work.
A camp is just a camp, but MY CAMP IS THE BEST THING EVER.
It doesn’t have the same ring, but you get the idea.
[Colemanites] get together during the year. The Clergy Advisory Board gathers to talk education and development. The Olim Fellows meet to learn about social justice, Reform Judaism, and to explore other camps in the URJ family. Cornerstone Fellows gather to learn how to make great programming even better with camps from all over North America, and brainstorming how to impact their work at Coleman when gathering in “Camproom.” Retreats. NFTY. Facebook. Instagram. Camp Shabbat. Bar/Bat Mitzvah weekends. Shabbat dinners. The emails – so many emails.
[Coleman] people find time to see [Coleman] people.
At the end of February, a collection of Coleman people met in Atlanta for two days. This form of Coleman reunion was targeted and focused. Like last year’s MasheJew meeting, we were developing curriculum. This year, we did some editing of the units from last year, and added in two more units. We also did a series of Tefillah workshops that could fill an entire summer of Kavannah (our name for our counselor- and programmer-led programming), come from my work at camp and at The Davis Academy (#NADIV) and will be one of my sessions when I serve on Cornerstone Faculty in May. We’re working on developing a program called “Hot ShoTz” (ShoTz is the abbreviation in Hebrew used to describe a service leader) which will teach people in our camp community leadership skills and service-leading methodology, allowing them to step up, and to shine in a new light.
It was a long 25 hours, Shabbat-long in length, but stuffed with beautiful, holy work. Faculty clergy, programmers, unit heads, our Rosh Mishlachat (Head of the Israeli Delegation), one of camp’s specialist coordinators, and year-round staff collaborated on all-camp programming, on Tefillah, and on unit specific work.
We’re not done with the work. There will be more emails. There will be teaching and learning and a summer of experimenting with new, exciting programming. And I’m thankful to know that there are so many people who are working toward another amazing summer of programming. This is the good that comes from thinking about camp all day, every day.
And if you want to be a Hot ShoTz, Coleman staff, you know where to find me.
Where [Coleman/ite] = [Your Camp’s Name/people]
January 28th was one such day.
I live and work in Atlanta during the school year. For months (MONTHS!) I’d been planning an Interfaith Social Action & Social Justice day, with Marist & Davis colleagues, for my 8th graders at the Davis Academy and our friends in the 8th grade at Marist School, a Catholic school just a few minutes away.
I hit roadblocks in planning. Locations, dates, times, school start times, Atlanta traffic concerns (Haha! Foreshadowing!) But then it came together, groups of 50 students each were scheduled to volunteer at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, MedShare, and Books for Africa. They were to be tasked with sorting and packing tons, literally tons, of: food for Atlanta’s hungry; books sorted into class sets for Africa schoolchildren; perfectly usable medical supplies, saved from landfills, and repackaged to be sent around the developing world. 120 kids were scheduled to participate in VolunteerStock at Davis, making turkey sandwiches for donation in midtown Atlanta, decorating a Prayer Canvas for the Boston Marathon, and making cards for Atlanta’s sick, elderly, and those who visit our local food pantries.
In the afternoon, everyone would meet at the MLK Center in Downtown Atlanta for lunch and a program that included the extraordinary speaker Stephon Ferguson.
The night before the program, we heard that we may have to cancel the second half of the program because of a snow storm. I stayed up late, calling and emailing faculty, staff, volunteer locations, and speakers. The plan for the morning? The show must go on! The afternoon? We will play it by ear.
The morning went off without a hitch. Then we said bye to Marist, hugged, and set up for our afternoon at Davis. Beautiful. I could stop there, the blog post would be done, everyone would smile and know that 220 students and many dedicated faculty and volunteer chaperone adults did good all around Atlanta.
Then, the afternoon arrived. Snow started falling. Carpool started early. Mr. Ferguson couldn’t meet us at Davis because of traffic. Atlanta was coated in dreamy white.
700+ sandwiches sat in my car. Google told me that because of the traffic caused by the storm, it would take two hours to get to the food bank, 24 miles away. My colleagues encouraged me to set out – “you should at least try to get there” even while the transit map was beyond foreboding. I was barely driving. I moved two miles in one hour, and this was better than most. I know many people who took upwards of 10 hours to get home. There were over 700 accidents A baby was born in a car on the highway.
285 minutes, an average of 11 mph, innumerable reroutes, countless others nearly skidding into my car, a giant headache, one stop for gas/bathroom/candy/medicine, and one guy who parked in front of me for a good 20 minutes, trying to turn left, transpired. Close to home, I FINALLY maneuvered my trusty all-wheel drive Subaru Outback into the driveway of the organization that was awaiting our sandwich delivery, hours after their usual closing time. Someone pointed out to me that I could’ve given those sandwiches out to my compatriots stranded on highways, but I’m stubborn and focused. I was a woman on a mission.
How’d I pass the time? I rolled down my window to thank emergency workers, and tried to add levity to the gridlock by making faces at my fellow stranded. I Tweeted and Facebooked while I was in park (which I was, most of the time). One of my colleagues, who took three hours to drive the three blocks between Davis and home, took this picture of two of our 8th graders, serving hot coffee to those stuck in traffic outside of their homes.
The day of service didn’t end at noon, 1:30, 2:30, or even 7:30. It marched into the night. I’m warm now, but every time I look at that picture of our 8th graders serving coffee, my heart melts yet again, as they lived out what it said on our Prayer Canvas “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.”
“Always thinking, you. Always thinking.”
A friend in graduate school mockingly accused one overachieving friend by telling her she was “always thinking.” Because she was “always thinking,” she came up with creative ideas and solutions to the most mundane and epic of problems.
Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to join my half-time colleagues from the Union for Reform Judaism at URJ Biennial in San Diego, while representing both halves of my job – URJ Camp Coleman and The Davis Academy, a Reform Jewish day school.
Decked out in professional garb (so professional that someone who’d met me last summer didn’t recognize me until I fully identified myself and said, “I know it’s hard to recognize me, as I am usually covered in dirt.”) and armed with an open mind, I stepped into the convention center with wide eyes.
Not raised in the movement, I found it was just like when I first started my job as a Nadiv Educator with the URJ. I was once again being plunged into “Reform Boot Camp.” I found myself “always thinking” thinking like I think at camp. Thinking like I think at school. I was thinking about camp, about school, about partnerships, about old friends and new, about my life before moving to the URJ, and the challenges that continue present themselves in all of our lives. I ran into, met with, and learned from inspirational teachers and role models. I took great pictures and hugged long-lost friends from all over North America. I learned from people who I sought out as role models, and acquired new teachers and friends. Neshama Carlebach wrote about her aliyah to Reform Judaism at Biennial. I’ve been bouncing around in the world Reform Judaism since I started my job. There’s much to learn, and you have to constantly be processing the experience. It’s intellectual. It’s fascinating. And, there’s room for everyone.
So, I was “always thinking” about my big question: What’s going to come back to Georgia with me? There’s the stack of cards from the iCenter for Israel programming. The dance-it-out Shema. The slamming of poetry. The concept of audacious hospitality. The inspiration of every person’s voice in a service attended by 5000 people.
The day after Biennial, I was back at Davis, and meeting with the 3rd graders for Tefillah.
What’s the biggest service you’ve been to?
Was it Yom Kippur? Rosh Hashanah? A bar or bat mitzvah?
I went to services with FIVE thousand people.
Five thousand people.
Five thousand voices.
Every voice matters – your voice matters.
I hope, if nothing else, that I never stop thinking, that WE never stop thinking, and that the Coleman and Davis campers that I teach, directly or indirectly, are always thinking. Always thinking about who and why they are. And always thinking that every voice matters.
Huge drums of food overflow in Jewish Studies classrooms at school.
A formidable stack of brightly-colored pieces of artwork perch precariously, threatening to tumble off of my desk.
This isn’t exactly a blog post about meetings. What kind of blogger writes about meetings? After all, you don’t get lots of numbers for writing about how “at 1:45PM, every Monday, she meets with her supervisor and talks about the tasks at hand.”
And yet, this is a blog post about meetings. Last year, when I first met my contact at Atlanta, GA’s JF&CS, I had no idea what to expect. Let’s review your agency’s good work, I thought, and figure out how to make some mitzvah happen at our machaneh (Hebrew for camp, and also because I love alliteration). Sheri was insightful and helpful and inspired URJ Camp Coleman’s Donate Duplicate Dental Supplies for a local dental clinic. She was good for camp and I continued to appreciate our relationship as I bugged her over the year for suggestions on ways to make mitzvot happen.
This is my job. I have to figure out how to make mitzvot happen.
This year’s Mitzvah Meeting couldn’t come soon enough! In addition to make sure mitzvot happen each summer at camp, school also is always looking for ways to be more involved and to teach our core value of Tzedek/righteousness. And so, after a really cool and long meeting about mitzvot for all ages and stages – starting with what the youngest kids do in the Lower School and through the Philanthropy work the Machon CITs do at camp – more cool ideas emerged.
First project? Making place mats for a Holocaust Survivors’ Chanukah Party. Taking a few study halls, volunteers joined our the Middle School Jewish Life Leadership representatives in sketching, scrawling, coloring and gluing. The finished results will be laminated and distributed soon!
Again, it seems kind of boring to talk about meetings. But these meetings, so filled with purpose, meaning and tzedek, are what yield these incredibly moving and positive results. Youth, ages 4 and up, are impacted by the Jewish commitment of their school and/or camp – the commitment to values and mitzvot.
We’re not just together to learn and to have fun – although we are really good at fun and great at learning. We’re together to make a difference. To create meaning. And to fill the world with more light and love, as a result of our commitment to mitzvah. And that is the most inspiring thing, isn’t it?