by Rabbi Dan Medwin
Founding Camp Council Member & regular Faculty Member
Digital Media Manager, Central Conference of American Rabbis
IF Camp = the Shabbat of the year, THEN Minecraft Meet-up = Havdalah
Let me explain…
Shabbat is the moment we look forward to all week. We get to stop thinking about work or school, and we can just be. We get to spend time together with family and friends in this break from the routine. And, if we zoom out and look at the whole year, camp could be considered Shabbat for the year. It is a break from our year-long routines, and we get to be together in special time.
The ritual items of Havdalah, the braided candle, the wine, and the spices, all help us to savor a bit of the sweetness of Shabbat. The smell of the spices, for example, linger in our hearts and nostrils, helping us to get through the week until Shabbat returns. The same is true, I would like to suggest, for the Minecraft meet-up we held just a little while ago. It was a taste of camp, allowing us to see friends, and and save up enough camp energy to make it through the year until we return to camp once again.
Every summer, there is a Minecraft chug (elective) in which campers, among other things, help to create a model of camp inside the virtual world of Minecraft. While highly pixelated and blocky, as per Minecraft’s iconic look, the Minecraft version of camp gives one a sense of actually being in camp. Evan Miller, our indefatigable Minecraft specialist at camp, selected the finest examples of camp buildings from over the years, and assembled them into an idyllic virtual camp. We uploaded this stellar constellation of buildings onto a server in the cloud were campers joined us from all over the physical world.
We gathered around an unavoidably blocky version of our familiar Havdalah ritual items, and sung the blessings together. The campers’ avatars jumped up and down to show their participation (or boredom) since they were muted on the simultaneous conference call and had few alternative options to show their participation in the prayers. Although, some cleverly typed “yai lai” a few times into the text chat box of Minecraft. It was sweet chaos.
Following the conclusion of Havdalah, we begin the creative work of building from which we ceased on Shabbat, and the 35 campers who joined us began participating in the building challenge. The beginner players were invited to re-create the Havdalah set that I constructed for the event, or to design their own versions. The intermediate players were invited to create a Ga-Ga pit, a staple of camp activities, getting very creative with the types of “balls” that could be used. (Some of my favorites included slime balls and “creeper” monster heads.). And finally, the advanced players were invited to construct one of the buildings around camp that had not yet been created. There was an amazing flurry of activity when everyone scattered to begin building.
What was perhaps the most meaningful aspect of this great experiment in my eyes, was when campers, either new to Minecraft or new to camp, asked for help. A number of campers either offered to help show them how to build or welcomed them into their building groups. It was an exceptional example of welcoming, both IRL (in real life) and in a virtual world. The camp values were on full display, and I was so proud of all of them.
If this had been all that occurred during this event, dayeinu, it would have been enough. But, the building projects the campers created, were spectacular! Very creative Havdalah sets, some of which used lava for the wine or purple clay blocks, dotted the landscape. Ga-Ga pits with rainbow floors or in the shape of a Jewish star beaconed us to play. And perhaps most spectacular, some of the missing camp buildings started to materialize before our eyes.
With the exception of a few campers who had technical difficulties preventing them from joining, it seemed to be an event thoroughly enjoyed by all! As campers signed off, we saw a range of messages proclaiming, “This was so much fun!!” “When can we do this again??”
While camp has been a proven success these past 5 years, it’s still important for us to grow and continue to experiment. These campers showed us that not only are they willing to continue on this journey of discovery, they are also the ones who will be leading the way. And I, for one, will savor the interactions and the techy fun we had, just as I savor the Havdalah spices and wine, until we’re all able to return to camp together!