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Living in Two Civilizations

By Alex Rubin, Staff Member at Camp JRF and Nachshon Project Fellow

Camp is a microcosm of an ideal Jewish, American life. There, we celebrate both American and Jewish holidays, we are able to connect to each other socially and spiritually, and even when participating in a “secular” activity, we are still learning and exhibiting Jewish values. For example when playing sports, we treat each other fairly and respect our teammates and opponents. When we are working on an art project, we are sharing our materials with friends and beautifying the world. I keep coming back to camp because in every facet of camp life, I am experiencing and connecting with both Jewish and American life in their full, rich, amazing forms.

A few summers ago, in an educational program teaching the Reconstructionist ideal of living in two civilizations, Jewish and American, Nehalim and Harim (12–15-year-old) campers at Camp JRF connected American holidays to Jewish ritual by writing blessings for their observance of American holidays. We are incredibly blessed to live in a society like the United States of America which allows free expression of religion and welcomes people of all backgrounds into social life. These blessings are an expression of gratitude for the ability to celebrate holidays reflecting both civilizations we live in.

One blessing in particular that stuck out to me was the prayer for Super Bowl Sunday. I always thought of Super Bowl Sunday as the epitome of a secular holiday (well, maybe some would argue that football is a religion). It is a day unique to America, where people gather around their television to watch commercials and football, and eat wings and chips. I was so impressed that campers were able to sit down and realize what Super Bowl Sunday was actually about: bringing friends together for common entertainment. Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about food or games, it is about being together with friends to celebrate an event that everyone enjoys, and that is something we can bless. The blessing reads, “Blessed are you, the one who brings friends together, who reunites friends to watch this game, who feeds us tasty food, and who brings us entertainment.”

This program showed that campers can take the lessons inherently learned at camp and bring them back home to an event like a Super Bowl party and opened my eyes to the way in which we do not just live in two civilizations but we integrate them. It is possible to be an American and enjoy the Super Bowl and it is possible to be a Jew and be grateful for an event to bring friends together—and it is possible to do both at the same time. I myself am grateful for the opportunity to share these blessings and spread more meaning and gratitude, even during unlikely events like the Super Bowl.

Looking back on this program a few years later, the idea of living in two civilizations is even more evident in our lives at camp. I come back to work at camp each summer to witness and experience the magic that living in an immersive Jewish, American community provides. While outside of camp I can create meaningful experiences for myself and my friends, at camp I am encouraged and enabled to find meaning in Jewish thought and share it with my peers, providing a rewarding and supportive environment to express my own Judaism and help others find theirs.

 

This piece was adapted from the original post Living in Two Civilizations, on the Ritual Well Blog


Originally from Pennsylvania, Alex Rubin graduated from Northwestern University studying Learning and Organizational Change, and Jewish Studies. Alex is a Nachshon Project Fellow, a prestigious fellowship for individuals interested in pursuing a career in the Jewish Communal world. Alex has spent his past 11 summers at Camp JRF and was a Cornerstone Fellow in 2015. He has been actively involved in the Reconstructionist movement, also serving on the leadership Va’ad of No’ar Hadash, and teaching at congregations Or Hadash and JRC, where he is also the Youth Director. In his free time, Alex enjoys eating soft pretzels, listening to country music, and playing ultimate frisbee.