Mah Tovu: Opening Camp and Parashat Balak
by Brett Lubarsky, Head Counselor
The words we say at the beginning of our morning t’filah are quite recognizable as a blessing:
When Balam (wicked sorcerer) was hired by Balak (king of Moab) to curse the Israelites as they passed through his kingdom on their way to Canaan, what actually came out was a blessing. We interpret these words in a myriad of ways, acknowledging the blessing of community and the roles that each unique member plays. Or, maybe focusing on our obligation to be blessings throughout our daily lives. (Genesis 12:2)While we sometimes interchange the words tents and dwellings, tents are temporary shelters that are relocatable, while we know dwellings to be a bit more permanent and sturdy. As we prepared for our second summer at URJ Sci-Tech Academy, I found myself thinking about space a lot. Not only do we approach our use of space throughout our camp season quite intentionally, we also have the task of transforming our beautiful space at Governor’s Academy back into our summer home after spending 9 months away – and recreating a space that represents our values and fosters holy community.While I would not go as far as to say that we spend our summer in one gigantic tent, it is quite remarkable to think about the transformation that occurs at both the beginning and end of our summer. Walking onto camp, it still very much looking like a school, and we work together to rebuild what we left last summer. From road signs to posters to room set-ups to supplies and then some, our leadership team and staff does it all.
But what exactly goes into our dwelling that makes it one of blessing? As I spent the last few days walking around camp, hanging out with campers and staff and watching our second summer come to life, I’ve gravitated towards a few answers…
Our Gesher Tzar Meod (Very Narrow Bridge) connects our main campus to where our boys and some of our leadership team lives. We took advantage of this opportunity to name it appropriately, and I believe that it also represents the journey that many of us take as we experience new things and different places. Part of the magic of camp is helping every member of our community stretch their comfort zones and experience new things. As Rabbi Nachman teaches us, the most important thing is not to be afraid as we exist in our world that sometimes looks and feels like a narrow bridge. Also: don’t forget to sing while crossing it!
Our core values are present throughout the fabric of daily life at camp. Whether working on a project in a workshop, discovering a new experience inchugim (electives) or posted on the walls of our chadar ochel (dining hall) and programming spaces, we actively live our values through our relationships and interactions with each other at camp and it is those interactions that help create and define holy space. Imagine what our society would be like if this was normal behavior outside of our enclosed safe and sacred camp community. As our campers and staff go home after the summer, we challenge ourselves and each other to continue to share and live our values and help make our world just a little bit better, one action at a time.
This summer, we gave our Livnot (Hebrew verb: “to build”) period a home with the creation of our Maker Space. With a foundation of design thinking and community building, campers and staff enter this space on camp with the charge to think differently and outside of the box, design, explore, create, build, assess, problem solve and innovate. A new component at Sci-Tech this summer, it is very much still in a beta stage and we are excited to continue to add to and modify what it is and how it helps us enhance our experiences at camp. From inventing to building to creating innovative Shabbat experiences for our camp community, this place on camp is one that we can all learn from.
As we prepare for our first Shabbat of the summer as a camp community, my blessings are abundant in this place in which I dwell. Our campers are excited and empowered. Our staff is enthusiastic and innovative. Our community is holy. It’s nice to be back home. Shabbat Shalom!