Maccabiah: A Celebration of Community and IndividualityPosted on July 19th, 2017
For two summers, I have served on the faculty of Greene Family Camp during Maccabiah. It’s really just a coincidence that I serve this week, and to be honest, when I was a camper I hated color war. At the camp I attended it was the one day when everything changed. My new friends became my opponents, I had to participate in sports that I would have never chosen to play, and my beloved counselors even took sides. The routine of camp, that helped me move beyond my home sickness was turned on its head. I wish I had attended GFC as a kid, because I would have loved Maccabiah.
The first time that the words “color war” came out of my mouth at GFC, I was corrected. Maccabiah was breaking, not any kind of war. And wow, it sure did break! To the surprise of most of the campers, last session one of the nurses at dinner shared a special announcement during her normal evening medicine announcements. And out came the Alufim (team captains) ready to begin Maccabiah! Camp split up into the yellow, green, blue and red teams and the celebrations began.
Campers who excelled in sports were celebrated for their abilities. Campers who wanted to learn a new skill were encouraged to do so. Campers who loved the arts, chose to focus on the arts fest. I was especially amazed, on the last night of Maccbiah, watching some of my own kids from my congregation dance to cheers they had come up with, participate in stomp, the same type of artistic and musical presentation seen in theaters around the country, and most importantly, applaud their friends on other teams. Maccabiah is about sportsmanship, it’s about celebrating everything camp has to offer and it’s about each camper developing a deep sense of pride in who they are as Jewish individuals.
As Shabbat prep began at camp, after two days of Maccabiah, I was chatting with an older cabin of girls as they walked to their last activity of the day before dinner. I asked them if they enjoyed the week and they said they did, but then one of the girls mentioned how grateful she was that just 24 hrs ago she was on a different team than her cabinmates and today they were back together as a cohesive unit. That theme of cohesion and community spread throughout camp during Shabbat. If I hadn’t asked a camper on Friday morning, I would never had known which team won color war, it just didn’t matter. As Friday night approached, we took off our colored shirts, we all put on our Shabbat whites and welcomed in the Sabbath queen. She too wore white, and she brought with her a more united community, a community filled with pride in themselves and in one another, and a sense of peace and calm that can only be felt for seven short weeks on Smith Lane, in Bruceville, TX.
Rabbi Amy Cohen is Rabbi Educator at Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, TX. She enjoyed her week on faculty during Session One with her children Adi and Lev.