Friday, August 31, 2012

More than a New Year's Resolution

At the entrance of the land of Israel, God demands much of the Israelites before entering the land in this week's Torah portion. The reading includes a hodgepodge of commands the Jews need to hear upon reaching the Promised Land. At the beginning of the portion, God discusses how men go about pursuing various types of women. God discusses the laws of intercourse with captives of war, virgin fiancees, unengaged virgins,and women a man already divorced. The majority of the laws relate to Biblical times, and they are somewhat outdated for the women of today, making it seem like a woman needs to either belong to her father or her husband like an object. Later, God talks about punishment for men who commit foul acts against virgins. Moving on from such romantic topics, the next serious of laws pertain to loaning money to both Israelites and gentiles. For other Israelites, the loaner ignores interest, but one includes interest for non-Jews. Finally, God outlines who to welcome and exclude from the land of Israel. God encourages the Israelites to welcome Edomites and Egyptians for their generosity in times of famine with Joseph and trouble in the desert. Before the Torah concludes, a lot of the parashot, like this week's Ki Teitzi, review the laws necessary for the Jews to go about life in the land of Israel. In the midst of these several, random laws, God makes a stern claim about keeping promises. God asks of the Jews to keep their promises. Breaking a promise with God equates to a sin. Vows with God are not necessarily extreme either. Once one makes a vow, God expects one to see it through its finish. Empty promises are easy to produce. Success derives from effort more than anything else. By setting a goal or making a vow, we create a standard for ourselves. God expects us to strive toward this direction, not simply observing a law but also maintaing our own integrity in the process. The commandment encourages us to chase our aspirations further than we sometimes want to go. One famous promise explemplifies the importance of this following. John Kennedy swore to send Americans into space. Imagine if the president created this hype without a plan or an effort afterward. The promise was to his people rather than God, but it nonetheless required more than simply "talking the talk". With this in mind, it seems appropriate to discuss this law as September approaches. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur seem like perfect times to form promises with God and ourselves. Rosh Hashana represents a new beginning a time to call for an end of old weights and unnecessary existences of problems. Yom Kippur provides the opportunity to address these issues and conceive ways to correct them. The High Holy Day process involves a lot of self-reflection and the settings of goals that address our moral beings. Whether one believes in God or not, this time of year allows us to make vows to ourselves on how to improve our decency. God or no God, it remains important to pause and sift through which actions during the year were righteous and which harmful. Of course, these vows are more than new years resolutions. In January, many of us swear to lose weight or stay organized. On Rosh Hashana, we determine our direction toward making society more habitable. We humuliate ourselves in thinking about our sins, and then we set goals to address the desparities of our better spirit. This year, I challenge any reader of this intrepretation to take action with this law. Make a promise to God or yourself that pertains to how to improve your moral character. More importantly, push yourself to continually follow this goal until it is as real as the late Neil Armstrong's footprint on the Moon. Rather than fearing a sin against God, keep this promise to not sin against yourself by losing this opportunity for imrpovement.

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Thoughts on Camp Shomria 2012

After 6 weeks away from the computer in the Catskills Mountain, I returned this past Sunday from a very relaxing, fulfilling summer at Camp Shomria. The past month and a half was a wonderful experience, creating lifelong memories, inside jokes, and friendships with some of the most special people in my world. More than any other year, my time at Camp Shomria went by so much quicker than I wanted.  I left the Tenefly bus stop, and the bus returned there again in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Within that blink though, I experienced so much. Some highlights include visiting our sister camp in Perth, Canada. I met the twenty Canadians who accompany my American kvutzah (age group) for a month long trip to Israel. The border-crossing trip commemorated the start of the 100 year anniversary of Hashomer Hatzair, the youth movement that runs Camp Shomria. The celebration culminated in a concert called Shmutzstock, a night of peace and love with songs revolving around a theme of home. The performances were stupendous. I still feel the excitement in my stomach when I remember hearing a rocking rendition of "Come Together" echo with a full moon and an absolutely gorgeous lake in the background. The night was perfect, definitely a highlight of my tenure with Hashomer Hatzair. Another striking event that comes to mind is when my kvutzah traversed 32 miles of the Delaware River by canoe.  While the Delaware is no thrill ride with white water rapids, the scenery by the banks is gorgeous. I bonded with everyone, floating downriver and soaking up the lesser developed portion of the river. I find it hard to believe that the metropolis of Philadelphia lies at the delta of the same river we canoed. It was one of many unforgettable experiences. Once again, the camp surpassed my already high expectations in what a wonderful summer was in store.

Each summer I come home, I feel like I just finished the best summer of my life, yet the following summer always surpasses its predecessor. Every year seems a little better at Camp Shomria. As part of the oldest kvutzah this year, I took on some new responsibilities this year. Part of our new tafkid (task) meant washing the pots from time to time rather than the regular dish cleaning and painting a recycling center. However, most of it was far more enjoyable than pots. The tzofim gimmel summer focuses around a number of projects the kvutzah completes as a collective. The first of these tasks is constructing a raft out of solely air tanks, twine, and logs. It involves a strong background in lashing. As much of a tradition as it is to build the raft, it is just as common for it to sink at the bottom of the lake. Due to a lack of floatation, our raft failed to carry us cleanly across the lake. Nevertheless, the experience fulfilled us with a sense of accomplishment. During the fourth week, we wrote a play to be performed for the whole camp. Parodying "Ferris Bueler's Day Off", we made the Beit Tarbut (play/culture house) roar with laughter. Hearing congratulations after the final lights closed, I felt so much pride in myself and my kvutzah for our accomplishment. Usually the Hadracha (staff) write and perform these evening plays. We took on the workload, and we really triumphed. Now, we needed to write a daytime activity. Again, a similar feeling of pride rushed over us when we finished not only a daytime activity but an ash laila, a follow-up activity in the middle of the night. The concluding project of the tzofim gimmel summer is the most daunting of them all. Hadracha put us in charge of constructing mifkadesh, a huge sculpture that catches on fire and lights up the night for a formal meeting of the camp.  The construction of mifkadesh involves a lot of perseverance, an intense work ethic, and plenty of devotion. We pulled it off wonderfully, feeling truly ready to enter our stage as kibbutzi (councilors in training) and begin to think about our trip to Israel.  The last two summers, I felt like an outsider just entering an already existing community. Now, my kvutzah took ownership over a place that taught each of us so much about maturity and friendship. When I look at the painted recycling center, I see the eight other people who assisted me in that job. We only began leaving our mark on those hallowed grounds in Liberty, New York, and I look forward to continuing that process.

Returning home is a daunting task at times. When people ask what happened at camp, I just want to tell them so much. If they follow with what the best part of my summer was, I always respond with the same answer. I loved strengthening the friendships I made over the past two summer over the course of the last six weeks, especially with my kvutzah. To think I wandered onto Camp Shomria not knowing anyone but my cousin (who actually missed my very first day of camp for a fourth of July celebration) baffles me. Saying goodbye and hugging all my friends, I felt connected in some way to each member of the Moshava. Last year, I left Mosh, feeling I grew with my kvutzah. Of course, we fought last year. What group of distinctly different fourteen agrees with each other all the time? At the start of this summer, we knew about the tasks ahead of us, and we approached the summer grown and ready. We dedicated ourselves to preserving this idea of kvutzah, the concept that any assortment of Jews going into the same grade can cooperate and work well with each other. I like the idea kvutzah most because it forces me to strive toward friendship with entirely different personalities than I usually bring into my life. I learned how to write a play with people who I fought with constantly only two summers ago. I thank all of hadracha for making this summer as spectacular as it was, especially my madrichim.

Now, I just need to wait 323 days until next year!