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.”
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?
Discussions such as the chatter above were floating around the Davis Academy Middle School before experiential Tefillah last Monday morning. Tefillahpolooza featured the prayerful stylings of 13 different teachers. It included teachers both Jewish and non-Jewish, academic and dramatic, texty and crafty. There was something for every multiple intelligence: songwriting, sports, movies, drumming, dramatics, photography, meditation, Torah and gratitude were all covered.
So how did this come to be? As the Nadiv Educator at the Davis Academy, I’m part of a dynamic Judaic Studies team. We work together and spend plenty of time pondering and discussing (as, of course, is tradition) how to make Tefillah engaging for our students. Tefillahpolooza was piloted – and enjoyed – last year, so this year, we turned it up to 13, so to speak. Thirteen teachers were lined up to do something instead of last year’s seven. We tapped teachers from many different departments and three administrators took time to facilitate sessions. It was all in at the Davis Academy, and the options were delicious:
- Banging on Things (Drumming & Spirituality)
- Judaism is Texty (Literature, Movies & Religion)
- Our hiSTORY (Storytelling & Judaism)
- Spirits Soar & Spirits Roar (Slam Poetry & God)
- Make Note, Give Notes (Gratitude & Attitude)
- A Day in the Post-Life (Chaye Sarah Parsha Discussion)
- Get Up, Stand Up (Active Amidah)
- #PhotoTefillah (Photography & Prayer)
- Meditation Service (Spirituality & Prayer)
- Crafty Judaism (Arts & Judaism)
- Ein Kleine Prayermusik (Music and Prayer)
- What are the #miracles in your life that you are most #thankful 4? (Daily Miracles)
- Sporty Spirituality (Athletics & Spirituality)
What was the result?
For me, it meant sharing some activities I’ve done at camp or the Foundation for Jewish Camp‘s Cornerstone Fellowship (that’s Chana Rothman’s “Banging on Things” and Jon Adam Ross’s “Get Up Stand Up” in the lineup) with colleagues as they developed their own lessons. It meant talking about religion and spirituality with a number of teacher from different faith backgrounds. It meant being consistently wowed by and grateful for the thoughtful colleagues I work with at school.
It means trying to figure out how to expand the service choices given at camp in order to mimic the small-group magic of 20+ kids learning to meditate while sitting on the floor.
It means that gratitude for daily miracles were blowing up on Twitter while a Torah timeline was being sketched in a Language Arts classroom. It meant, for one student, it meant that God was HERE, and he taped that very word to the front of his shirt to prove the point.
It meant, as another student wrote, that s/he “thinks that prayer is a way of communication and kehillah (community).”
It meant that we were formed thusly, for 40 minutes, with 13 choices, over 200 students and teachers, many ways to communicate…and that we were one whole community.
Two quick days.
(Two four-week sessions.)
Middle of the school week.
(Middle of another delicious Georgia summer.)
60+ 8th graders.
(450 3rd-12th graders.)
A handful of faculty.
(Multitudes of young (and not-so-young) trained counselors and specialists.)
(Nearly 40 cabins, filled to capacity.)
An abundance of Hershey’s chocolate bars.
(An abundance of Hershey’s chocolate bars.)
There are a number of ways to compare the Davis Academy 8th Grade Gibush/Teambuilding Retreat to a whole summer at URJ Camp Coleman. School had just started, and camp had just ended. Over the course of the time we spent at Coleman, the 8th graders were present. There. Ready to do everything. Willing participants in the teambuilding enterprise.
As their Nadiv Educator, I’d barely transitioned from camp to school when we brought the 8th grade class. I would look out into the crowd at dinner and do a double-take. “Where is Bonim? Why aren’t the Chalutzim meltzing?” Then, I’d shake my head and realize that it wasn’t camp anymore. It was…camp. Davis Gibush camp. At Coleman.
Our 8th graders have taken the first steps on their journey to Israel. In a few short months, they will graduate. But first, to break the barriers. Everybody has their own smaller group of friends in the grade. How does the 8th grade become a cohesive unit? We started with Leaderskits, imagining as if they were Moses, looking out into Israel, not quite there yet. We continued with setting goals for learning for the year, low ropes, Israeli Dance and swimming. After dinner, the kids explored Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” through silent contemplative prayer for nearly an hour, coming back together for s’mores and a poetic review of the Davis menschlichkeit values. The next morning, a walking (and running) Tefillah energized them for a morning of art, campfire cooking and Gaga before lunch and returning to Davis. One student’s mom relayed this story: After hearing a description of the activities, she said that the student had come back from an icebreaker retreat. “No, mom,” he demanded. “It was teambuilding.”
All of the magic of camp.
(All of the magic of day school. At camp.)
Two short days.
(A summer of memories.)
I can’t believe it’s over. All of a sudden, I transitioned from the tie-dyed 24/7 magic of camp to the polo shirts, big binders and giant potential of a year of learning and teaching at a really cool school. I can’t believe school has started. All of a sudden, I’m transitioning to the daily magic of the classroom buzz – and non-classroom activities – at school from the 24/7 constant young role modeling of camp.
Kids, for sure, can’t believe camp is over. Take a look at their Instagram accounts, their most recent tweets. Picture after picture. Camp dates and rates for summer 2014 are already being re-tweeted. Countdowns have begun – only 330 more days until I get to go home again!
As I look around my office at The Davis Academy, it’s like I never left. My Moses action figures kept my office safe, and my eclectic collection of books and toys are perfectly positioned to get pulled at a moment’s notice to teach learners yet again! But, if you look closely, you’ll see changes. A new water bottle from Sustainability Shabbat at Camp Coleman. A copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, ready to teach about silent prayer to Davis 8th graders before they go for a hike in the shady wooded areas on a retreat at Coleman. My Coleman laptop, perched in an unprecarious but funny-looking position next to my Davis desktop. A ceramic mug and a new picture frame on the wall, both gifts from awesome camp staff.
I look at your kids (former campers, future campers, current students) and it’s like they’ve never left. The bright eyes. The shy smiles. The neon-colored backpacks. But again, look closely.They’re taller. Their hair is less Bieber-esque than last year. They learned to read Torah, or lead blessings, or how to climb a tall tower or to make shattered glass into a stunning mosaic. They can’t wait to talk about the sights they’ve seen: The waterfall! The South! The capitals of Europe!
Looking at it both ways, it’s hard to decide what to love more – school or camp? Camp or school? Without school, who would these kids be? Without camp, how would their lives turn out? The combined experiences in our communities (camp, school, home, synagogue, JCC, a university alumni’s mommy and me group, whatever works) are shaping our Jewish future. So I don’t love one place more than the other. I love the promise of a bright and exciting future.
Several weeks ago, as we were gearing up for camp, I was sitting and having a lot of conversations with people. Our primary concerns were health, safety and security, of course, as we want to welcome your children into the safest and most open arms we can provide! Once we provided for basic needs, everyone rallied around the project of setting up the whole camp program, from learning icebreaker games to setting up a trip calendar for every unit to learn out of camp, and getting ready to plan Maccabiah (color war/Olympics/etc).
Just as we have essential curriculum and progression in school, including my beloved day school, The Davis Academy, so too do we set curriculum that goes through a child’s years in camp. In the Programming Castle (because we like to nickname buildings, people, activities, and things at camp), each unit’s dedicated programmer crafts a schedule filled with programs addressing their unit’s enduring understandings and essential questions. “Why does being Jewish matter?” they ask our oldest campers. “We are all a part of K’lal Yisrael/the people of Israel” responds a younger unit. This framework allows for structure fun sessions, as well as a healthy mindset for working, living, learning and enjoying our experiential Jewish summer home.
The following email, edited slightly from its original version, shows the bridging of the two kinds of educational venues, two totally different settings, and two totally identical program goals, addressing the important question of “how do we build a Jewish community together?”
Dear Community Rabbi,
I hope this email finds you well.
We’re gearing up for camp and one of our Programmers is preparing a program about setting a new place, and deciding how to establish the Jewish community. I’ve included the programmer on this email so you two can connect.
The program idea reminds me very much of the program you did with the 5th graders at our day school before they went on their trip to Savannah, GA! I was hoping that you two would be able to touch base about this program while you’re at camp for the first week and a half.
Looking forward to seeing you at day school graduation.
All the best,
Your Friendly, Neighborhood Nadiv Educator
Sara Beth Berman is a Nadiv Educator working at URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, GA in the summer and The Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia during the school year.
“Call me maybe?” I raised my eyebrows as I pondered the implications of asking kids to maybe, if they feel like it, engage in prayer. Every head was bopping around to the song. OK…OK, I can handle this. Actually, this is…fun. This is fun!
Just as this JTA piece on tech in camp was going to press, we were preparing to have an all-middle school iPod service at the Davis Academy.
I was, I am, and I always will be looking for good ways to engage my communities in tefillah, in prayer. The creative and exciting programming that I have seen in my many years at camp ran the range from quietly standing at the edge of a lake to chanting loudly as a room echoed with a thunderstorm of voices. Some of my more far-out tefillah experiences included snacks, scrolls, markers, chalk, mindful movement, and jumping, in unison and in complete silence.
How would the classic URJ Camp Coleman iPod service change if it was led by the kids and not the counselors? We set out to answer this question at The Davis Academy last week. The community is growing used to my outside-of-the-box (AKA camp-style) programming during tefillah. They’re also getting used to the incredibly serious and thoughtful debrief questions I like to ask, which sometimes deeply engage the kids, and other times, get the kids to see their teachers as thoughtful, spiritual beings.
As each advisory group gathered in a circle on the “gymagogue” floor, iPods in hand, they were poised and ready to leap. First, they had to figure out the meaning of the prayer on the page called out to them. Then, they had to find a song that expressed the same ideas. Finally, a select group of faculty chose a few songs per prayer, playing them for about 30 seconds over the loudspeakers.
Kids were poised, ready to jump, scurrying across the gym and begging to know what the next prayer would be. One group cued up “All You Need Is Love” in anticipation of Ahavah Rabbah, which is about God’s great love.
At the end of tefillah, I heard the following things:
“What do you mean it’s over?”
“Can’t we do one more prayer?”
“That was fun,” they said. “We should do this more often.”
And, from a teacher:
“They were SO into it!”
Camp and school came together that day. And they were SO into it.
Sara Beth Berman is a Nadiv Educator working at URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, GA in the summer and The Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia during the school year.
I have been to the mountaintop. Learning with students in my day school, we recently discussed the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and his last speech. We talked about looking toward the future. A future of rights and equality. A beautiful future.
I also see a beautiful future.
I have been to the mountaintop of Jewish summer camp. I have learned with great teachers while wearing flip flops and reeking of SPF 85. I have rejoiced in the beauty of Israeli dance with hundreds of people in one space. I have consumed the proverbial bug juice and I now continue to try to reproduce it – every meaningful, sweet-as-mountain-air, drop. We remove our shoes and wiggle our toes in the gravel. This is holy ground. It’s serious experiential education. As Heschel put it – we are praying with our feet.
I have been to the mountaintop of Jewish day school. I have watched sixth, seventh, and eighth graders equate 1960s Civil Rights with modern social justice issues. I have seen them grapple with the text of the Binding of Isaac. I have been moved, as their teachers helped them to sketch in chalk, what this prayer or that prayer means to them. They stomp their feet in the coordinated “Mr. O’Dell Shuffle” as we return the Torah to the ark, a dance named for their 8th Grade Judaic Studies teacher. Their shuffles, their teachers, and our Torah, turn the gym into holy ground.
I have been brought to a new mountaintop. This mountaintop is also revelatory, as I begin to feel and see the connections between camp and school in a way that I didn’t before Nadiv. As I chat with URJ Camp Coleman campers in the hallway at The Davis Academy, I’m transported to the dining hall at camp. I can feel the heat of hundreds of kids singing “Im Tirtzu Ain Zo Aggadah” – if you will it, it is not a dream – at the tops of their lungs. Hundreds of feet, skipping forward and then back, as they celebrate the Israeli harvest of strawberries. This, too, is holy ground.
I have been to the mountaintop and I can see the future of Jewish education. Take your shoes off, friend. We’re walking on holy ground and praying with our feet.