On Finding Your Path On Your Jewish Journey
There I was, in a sea of 11 year-old campers. We had just finished telling the story of Abram and Sarai—of Abraham and Sarah—and modeling their journey in the form of an obstacle course. We were reflecting upon the experience. What did you learn about Abram and Sarai’s journey? What did you learn about the notion of journeys from going on this journey yourself? And what did you learn about yourself?
In the middle of these reflections, one girl raised her hand timidly. I called on her.
“I have maybe a stupid question,” she said meekly.
“There is no such thing as a stupid question,” I replied. “Go for it!”
“I understand that we are Jewish, but where does Judaism even come from?” she implored, curiosity and innocence shining in her eyes. My heart shattered in that way it only does when one is overwhelmed by deep contentment. I could not have planted a more perfect question among campers, even if I had tried.
“I am so glad you asked that question,” I responded. “Because that is actually what this story is all about! This story is the Genesis story of Judaism. This is where it all began. All the stories in the Torah that precede this story are speaking about the creation of the world and God’s relationship to humankind as a whole. But this story—this story of Abram and Sarai—is about the genesis of Judaism. That is the true importance of this story. It is with this story that Am Yisrael—the people of Israel—the people that wrestle with God—are born. This question you have asked is the question.”
From this point on, the questions cascaded in like the floodwaters in the story of Noah’s Ark. The camper’s inquired about the nature of God. Is he a man up in the sky? Does s/he/they even have a gender? Is God even a being, or is God simply the interconnection of everything and everyone? And does God predetermine our lives, or do we have free will? Do human beings control our own destinies, or does God make these decisions for us? And is God perfect and thus every action s/he/they do right and rightful, or is God flawed? Does God make mistakes? Does God feel remorse?
The depth to which these kids could reach when given permission felt to me like an answered prayer that I never knew I had. These kids thought they were learning from me. That I was the keeper of all the answers. But in the typical Jewish fashion, I met their questions with simply more questions. The answers are unknown. We can never truly know the nature of God. We can only postulate. Speculate. Thirst for knowledge. And these campers—these 11-year olds—reminded me of that. To continue to question. To continue to explore. To continue to thirst for knowledge. For for what other reason could us human beings—us images of the divine— have possibly been placed on this Earth?
Fast forward to a few weeks later. It is Kabbalat Shabbat at Camp Tawonga. After a banquet style dinner and a raucous freylach song session and dance party, we have entered into the more contemplative part of our evening. The different units have all split off into their own nature-filled corners of camp for a full-unit, co-facilitated Kabbalat Shabbat service. Each bunk has been assigned a traditional Kabbalat Shabbat or Ma’ariv prayer to creatively reinterpret in the form of a song, dance, skit, poem, or anything else of which their hearts could dream. And this week, we introduced a new prayer into the mix, Yedid Nefesh, which poetically oozes with yearning for union with the Divine. A bunk gets up and begins to sing Song for the Divine Mother of the Universe by Ben Lee, a camp favorite. But then, on round two, they replaced the words of the song with words to from the prayer Yedid Nefesh:
“Majestic Beautiful Radiance
My soul pines for you love
Your friendship will be sweeter
Than the dripping of the honeycomb.”
I thought to myself, “This is why I’m here.”
*This piece is adapted from On Finding Your Path on Your Jewish Journey, on Camp Tawonga’s “The Pipeline” Blog. Camp Tawonga is a JCC Association summer camp. Learn more about JCCA Camps at www.jcccamps.org.
Faryn Borella is the Jewish Program Director at Camp Tawonga this summer. She is currently a Masters of Arts in Social Change student at Starr King School for the Ministry where she studies Jewish Liberation Theology and interfaith ritual to counter oppression.