No comments yet

Parashat B’ha-alot’kha

The Israelites Begin the March to the Promised Land, and Our Children and Grandchildren Begin their March to Summer Camps

As we begin B’haalot’cha, the third portion of B’Midbar/Numbers, the Israelites are camped at the foot of Mount Sinai for a full year after G-d Almighty had given the Torah to Moses.  G-d commands Moses to direct his brother Aaron, the High Priest, to build a Menorah, the seven branch candelabrum that is to be placed in front of the Tabernacle on the march through the desert. The cloud finally lifts from over the Tabernacle, and G-d Almighty instructs Moses to order the building of two silver trumpets to signal the beginning of their march.

As the Ark carrying the Two Tablets begins to move, Moses recites the words sung to this day in Synagogues around the world when the Torah is taken out of the Holy Ark. “Advance, O Eternal One! (Vay’hi Binsoa Ha-aron Vayomer Moshe.) May Your enemies be scattered, and may your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: (U’v’nuho Yomar…) Return, O Eternal One, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands!” (10:35-36).

As the journey begins, B’nai Yisrael/The Children of Israel begin to “kvetch” about the manna that G-d Almighty had been providing them. They want meat! G-d causes a wind to blow, sending an abundance of quail to the Israelites.

Moses’s family, brother Aaron and sister Miriam, join in the kvetching! They are jealous of their brother’s leadership of the Israelites and they slander him for marrying a Kushite/Ethiopian woman. Miriam is punished immediately: she is stricken with leprosy. Moses recites a five-word prayer asking G-d to heal his sister, one of the very few prayers in the Torah. “Eil Na R’fah Na La/O G-d, pray heal her!” (12:13)

Just the way the Israelites begin their march from the foot of Mount Sinai to the Promised Land, there will be this coming week a march of thousands of Jewish young people to Jewish summer camps.

Beginning in the second decade of the 20th century, visionary Jewish educators realized the immense opportunity to educate Jewish young people during the summer season at “sleep away” camps where campers could experience Jewish life 24 hours a day for eight weeks.

The first major Jewish camp was Cejwin Camps, located in Port Jervis, New York. Cejwin Camps opened in 1919.

Today, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox Movements, in addition to Zionist organizations, JCC’s, and Jewish Community organizations, all offer camping opportunities for American children. Students from KI attend Camp Harlam. Rabbi Ben David told me that, “Union of Reform Judaism Camp Harlam was founded in 1958 by Joseph and Betty Harlam. It was operated for years by director Arie Gluck, a proud Israeli and Zionist. It is one of the Reform movement’s 18 camps across North America and offers a summer experience rooted in Torah, the arts, sports, Israel and fun. KIds come from across the country; staff come from around the world, including many from Israel. It is run by executive director Lisa David (the wife of our Rabbi).” Rabbi David attended Camp Harlam for many summers, and his choice of the Rabbinate as a lifelong career was encouraged by his summers at Harlam. This summer, thirteen KI students and five KI staff members are attending Camp Harlam.

The Conservative Movement’s camping program is called Camp Ramah, the Hebrew word for “high place.” The first Camp Ramah opened in Conover, Wisconsin, in 1947. Today, there are 10 overnight camps, and six day camps across the USA and Canada. Ramah emphasizes spoken Hebrew for all campers and staff members. The camps offer daily prayer experiences, formal and informal classes, Hebrew singing and Israeli dancing, dramatics, and a full range of athletics.

The Tilman family is deeply immersed in the Ramah experience. I was a Ramah camper in 1959 and 1960, and I served as Ramah music director at two different Ramah camps, from 1965 to 1975. At age 15, I knew that I wanted to be a Ramah music director and teach Jewish music. Our second son, Rabbi Howard Tilman, was a Ramah counselor and division head at Ramah in the Poconos. Our daughter, Alana, has been a Ramah camper and staff member since she was 10 years old, and now serves as Associate Director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, Wingdale, NY, the largest of all the Ramah camps. She is a second generation Ramah staff member! I was music director of Ramah Berkshires many years ago! This summer, our six year old grandson, Micah, will attend the “Gan/Kindergarten” program at Ramah Berkshires for one week, when his father will be a visiting scholar: a third generation Ramahnik!!

All the camps bring a large number of Israelis to the USA as staff members. Young Israelis recently discharged from the IDF will have much to teach our young people about war and peace,

This coming week, campers will leave their homes and “march” to these camps for a summer of fun, recreation, great spirit, and intensive Jewish education and experiences, just as B’nai Israel began marching to ancient Israel as described in this week’s Torah portion. We pray that all will return home imbued with renewed Jewish identities and commitments in all branches of the American Jewish community. Our homes and synagogues will be undoubtedly enriched by the campers bringing new fervor, new Jewish skills, songs, dances, and renewed commitments.

All the Tilman’s wish you, your children and grandchildren “Shabbat Shalom U’m’vo-rach.”