On Sunday they pulled up to the camp gate. Families with kids young and old, waiting expectantly, peering over the line of cars into their new home for the next 4 weeks – for many – their promised land. From all of the communities of Texas, Oklahoma, and beyond, first time campers and seasoned veterans – all feeling the tingle in their stomachs while awaiting bunk assignments and meeting new counselors.
As I arrived with my wife, Rachel and son, Eitan to join the faculty at Greene Family Camp 2017 we shared in the excitement and nerves of the first day of camp. For me, this is my first time at GFC and so the feeling of butterflies returned once again, reminding me of my first drive through the gates of URJ’s Goldman Union Camp Institute some 26 years ago. The first-day-of-camp nerves are universal – a feeling of new beginnings, new challenges, new opportunities to make friends, and new discoveries of the self. In Judaism it is a feeling that connects us to our ancestors, l’dor vador…
וַיְדבֵ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶ֥ה לֵאמֹֽר׃ שְלַח־לְָ֣ אֲנָשִ֗ים וְיָתֻ֙רו֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רץ כְנַ֔עַן אֲשֶר־אֲנִ֥י נֹתֵ֖ן
לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְראֵ֑ל אִ֣יש אֶחָד֩ אִ֨יש אֶחָ֜ד
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,“Send people to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one from each of their ancestral tribes… (Numbers 13:1) Parashat Sh’lach
It’s fitting that in this season of opening up summer camp, this week’s Torah reading displays the anxieties of the Israelites as they waited at the gates of the promised land. After generations of slavery and wandering in the wilderness, these scouts suddenly confronted new realities and new challenges they had not anticipated. In the Torah these appear in the form of unknown peoples, massive fruits, and giants.
Of course, we know of their costly mistake: all but two of the scouts returned to spread concern and doubt about the promised land rather than inspiring confidence amongst the nervous tribes – all except for Joshua and Caleb. For the Israelites, these two experienced leaders serve the role of the seasoned cabin counselors on the first day of camp – they calm the anxious members of the community and help to build the confidence and unity of the camp.
Here at GFC, many campers jump right in to camp life in the very first hour- running around, shouting to their friends about all the new activities, new buildings, and the exciting waterfront. Yet there are also campers who experience the newness of camp differently. The most beautiful and powerful moments of the first few days, I think, involve the many caring counselors who comfort worried kids and thoughtfully bring each and every one of the campers from the outside of the circle into the warmth and loving kindness of the camp community. May this be the core of our work for Summer 2017.
Rabbi Daniel Utley is on the clergy of Temple Emanu-El Dallas. Daniel, his wife Rachel, and their two year old son Eitan have been spending the week with us on faculty at GFC.