Rabbi Andrew Terkel, URJ Greene Family Camp’s Director of Year Round Programs, shares a beautiful story about the parallels between Counting the Omer and counting down to camp.
Sitting in the orchestra section for Hamilton on the Thursday night of Passover felt like listening to two stories being told at once, with masterful music and lyrics and plenty of dancing too. The story of our young nation playing out on stage, and the story of Passover that I had been focused on that week collided and intertwined that night at Fair Park in Dallas. As the character of John Laurens sings in the song My Shot, “We’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me.” The lyric hit me like a bolt of lightning. I had listened to the Hamilton soundtrack countless times, my son Avi even likes to sing along, but this was my first time seeing the show live. Seeing it over Passover added a layer of meaning I didn’t recognize until that moment. We, Americans and Jews, are constantly on the journey through the desert, always striving to create the Promised Land in which we want to live.
This moment in our Jewish calendar between Passover and Shavuot is a special time called the Omer, and we count the days one by one, starting on the second day of Passover. We count the 49 days from Exodus in Egypt to revelation at Mt. Sinai, and we put ourselves back in our ancestors’ shoes wandering through the desert, when Israel was young, scrappy and hungry too. What John Laurens said could be one of the lines in our Haggadah; both the Founding Fathers and the ancient Israelites set out to chart their own destiny, and to create a world better than the one in which they grew up. The Israelites set out on a journey of freedom, but it took receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai to give them a destiny. They needed direction, they needed a goal, they needed a purpose. These 49 days of the Omer remind us of their journey and remind us that we too must always struggle to ensure freedom and justice for us and our society. Standing at Sinai, we learned that freedom isn’t enough all by itself. Freedom must be treated as a gift and used to repair the brokenness of our world. John Laurens’ call has yet to ring completely true, and this period of the Omer reminds us to work every day to bring ourselves closer to a world of justice and equality.
As we count down the Omer we get closer and closer to Shavuot, the holiday marking the gift of receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai. Traditionally, Jews stay up all night studying Torah and eating dairy rich treats. We at Greene Family Camp will be celebrating with some of the traditional elements, and the added excitement that the day after Shavuot is Opening Day of Session 1. Counting down the Omer has taken on extra significance for us with this quirk of the calendar that bumped our opening day to Monday, June 10th, and our staff will spend Shavuot exploring texts about community as we prepare to welcome hundreds of campers through the gates of GFC. Our Omer countdown has a dual meaning this year too, we are getting closer and closer to the celebration of receiving Torah, AND to the celebration of receiving hundreds of new campers for the summer.
We know that many of our campers and staff see summer as a time of freedom and exploration. Summer camp is a time to try new activities (STEM, arts & crafts, gaga, theatre, dance, ropes course, the list goes on and on!), to make new friends, and to escape from life’s normal routine. At camp we exchange the 9-5 for the 24/7, and we build an inspiring and closely-knit community together. The freedom we get to experience at camp is wonderful, life changing, and powerful. It also provides us a setting in which to explore our Jewish identity, and our relationship with the texts and history that have shaped and guided us as a people. We view ancient words with modern eyes, and create a camp community of joy and song, of inclusivity and warmth.
The ties to our ancient journey through the desert are hard to ignore, but our people’s journey through the desert was much more than a 40 year camping trip. It was the chance to discover our talents and to build the lasting relationships that made us Am Yisrael. This year, I’m counting the Omer and getting ready for the summer of a lifetime. My family and I will be singing Hamilton tunes all the way to Bruceville too. See you at GFC!
Rabbi Andrew Terkel