Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Tu B’Av begins tonight. It’s often described as the Jewish Valentine’s Day because historically this was a day for matchmaking. The Talmud describes young women, dressed in white, dancing in the vineyards looking for a partner. Tu B’Av is a little known holiday and does not require special liturgy or ritual. Recently in Israel, the holiday has been reclaimed as a holiday of love with singing and dancing.
I think it’s beautiful that Judaism has a holiday for love. Most of our holidays revolve around agriculture and the harvests and remind us to turn our hearts to God and be faithful to God’s commandments. But, Tu B’Av is unique. This holiday is about our relationships with other people and, in particular, the person with whom we’ve chosen to share our lives. This holiday is a testament to the value that Judaism places on our interpersonal relationships. We are most holy when we are treating other people with kindness, dignity, and respect, traits that are the foundation of any good relationship and behavior that Judaism requires of us.
I find it fitting that this holiday of love falls while summer camp is in session. I met my husband at camp. Maybe I wasn’t dressed in white dancing in a vineyard, but to me, camp is all about music, joy, and love.
I grew up at the URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Indiana. Music is an important part of the Ruach (spirit) of this camp. We sing after every meal. We sing during services and twice as long on Shabbat. The camp is unified through song. Joy and frivolity are visible during fast or silly songs. Love is tangible during the slower songs, when the campers and staff sway in rhythm, placing their arms on each other’s backs. This is a camp that understands the meaning of Tu B’Av, the value of relationships.
To this day, some of my closest friends are people I met at camp. Camp creates a safe environment for people to be themselves and accepted for who they are. Camp cultivates confidence and independence in the campers, yet a connectivity to the community that binds them. Camp emphasizes caring for others and that is the basis of the relationships formed there. We feel an obligation to make sure everyone is ok at camp, to include everyone and let them know they are valued and loved. We all feel strengthened by being together.
Now when I return to camp as an adult, I see camp with new eyes. I witness how the counselors tend to the children, treating them with patience and concern as a parent would. I watch the staff create and facilitate programming for the campers with a desire to recreate the beauty that the counselors, themselves, experienced as campers years ago. I see these children connecting with Judaism and creating friendships that will last a lifetime. And, now, I’m falling in love all over again.
This time, it’s not with a person (I still love my husband!), but with the magic of camp. Every year, I get this same feeling. It fills me. It spiritually grounds me. It makes me whole. It gives me hope that just as camp accepts and values every person for who they are, that someday we can all feel that same acceptance, love, and joy. It gives me faith that the magic we create at camp will be brought back to these campers’ home communities and will spread beyond our little corner of the world. May the entire world be infected.
Tonight, let’s celebrate Tu B’Av. Let’s celebrate the magic of camp. Let’s celebrate love.