Shalom again to our Yavneh Kehillah,
Over the past three weeks I have been lucky enough to spend many, many hours deep in the “weeds” of Kayitz (summer) 2022. This has included so many things — from schedules to accreditation to Covid protocols to staff training and much more — but our overall focus is always on building, supporting, and sustaining the safe, healthy, joy-filled, and Torah-centered community that lives and thrives in Camp Yavneh each summer.
Anyone who has spent time at Yavneh (or other Jewish overnight camps) knows that summers in camp can often feel like a magical bubble filled with celebration, learning, play, and growth that is set apart from many of the challenges and realities of the world outside of camp. While I have spent these weeks dreaming about the idyllic place and time that is summer at Camp Yavneh, I have of course at the same time been unable to escape the real suffering, pain, and injustice in the world around us. In just the last three weeks, we have seen the US officially surpass one million Covid-19 deaths; our Supreme Court preparing to overturn fifty years of human rights legislation; the violent continuation of Russia’s war against Ukraine; a shortage of baby formula right here in the U.S.; and of course the horrifying massacres at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas just three days ago.
This week’s parasha, B’hukkotai, famously lays out God’s promise to bless those who observe God’s commandments, and to curse those who do not. Those who obey will be given prosperity, sustenance, and security. Those who disobey will be punished with destruction and suffering.
Unfortunately, we all know that life is not as simple as “make good choices and get rewarded.” Too many worthy and righteous and God-fearing people — let alone pure and innocent children — experience deep injustice and pain. We see it every day on the news, in our communities, and around the world.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l explains that this parasha is not just meant as an incentive to make the right choices, rather it is intended to make us recognize the ways our actions have consequences. Rabbi Sacks wrote: “You cannot overeat and take no exercise, and at the same time stay healthy. You cannot act selfishly and win the respect of other people. You cannot allow injustices to prevail and sustain a cohesive society. You cannot let rulers use power for their own ends without destroying the basis of a free and gracious social order.”
As I look ahead to the time in just a few weeks when our campers and staff members will be together in Northwood, NH, I am tempted to lean into the magical bubble-ness of camp, to use the summer as a welcome escape from the relentless and devastating bad-news cycle, and to enjoy the physical and mental break from thinking about why terrible things happen to good people.
But camp is, and must be, so much more than an escape. Camp is the place where we can and do learn the many ways Torah and mitzvot, our values and traditions, can inform our choices, and can guide us to living lives of righteousness, aware of the deep consequences of each of our individual and communal choices and actions. Camp may feel like a respite, but it is also a time of growing and thinking and praying and learning and laughing, together in holy community, so that we can emerge — as God asks of us in this parasha — ready to follow and observe God’s mitzvot, able to face the challenges around us, and prepared to play our part in healing our broken world.
Jane-Rachel Schonbrun, Director