Cornerstone 06.18.20

Gathering Prayerfully Across Time and Space

By Larry Bender, Seth Braunstein, Shalom Orzach, and Ariella Rosen

Jewish camps are masters of Kavanah, of operating with intention and setting meaning-making as a top priority. The Cornerstone Seminar is no exception. Each year, over 250 outstanding third-year returning college-age counselors representing close to 60 diverse camps come together for the highest-level experiential Jewish education and leadership development training. We, the Davening Vaad (prayer committee) debate over how to best bring meaningful spiritual moments to participants across the Jewish camp spectrum, with intentionality as our lens. 

Forced to pivot to an online platform this year (Cornerstone 202.0!) and reach participants hailing from a geographic range of ten time zones, we had a unique question to answer: how do we bring meaningful prayerful moments to this virtual community, not only spread out across space, but also across time? 

The answer, it turns out, was not only to embrace Kavanah, but also to elevate its less flashy partner, Keva. Keva means “structure,” something fixed or set. Keva is what links prayer books from around the world together in (at least some) common liturgy, and helps Jews literally stay on the same page throughout the worship year. Keva is also the driving force behind the three times a day that Jewish tradition has set aside for prayer: Shacharit (morning), Mincha (afternoon), and Maariv (evening). 

Keva was the inspiration behind how we ultimately brought meaningful prayer into Cornerstone 202.0: we presented three moments of reflection and mindfulness at the same time each day, each emerging from themes of one of the three prayer times, each operative for at least a portion of our virtual community at that moment. Morning on the west coast was afternoon on the east coast, while our friends in Europe and Israel were winding down their days and approaching evening. We found ourselves ending, and beginning, together. 

We wanted to share our moments of reflection from Cornerstone 202.0 with the entire Jewish camp community, in hopes that they inspire you wherever — and whenever — you may be.

Shacharit: Beginning the Day With Gratitude

Modeh Ani – I give thanks.  As well as — or instead of — reciting the traditional text, we invite you to complete this statement personally: what are you grateful for this morning? The Unity in CommUNITY must leave room for the Unit, the individual. This is our prayer, and our commitment at camp. Celebrating the image of God inherent in each and every one of us.  Creating our own texts is more demanding and potentially liberating than reading those of others. We invite you to create intentionality around gratitude; How will you give it expression today? How will you enable others to offer their gratitude due to their encounters with you?

We invite you to reflect on an additional prayer and theme. As we approach the climax of Shacharit,with the Shema and the Amidah, we say; מָֽה־רַבּ֬וּ מַעֲשֶׂ֨יךָ ׀ יְֽהוָ֗ה כֻּ֭לָּם בְּחָכְמָ֣ה עָשִׂ֑יתָ מָלְאָ֥ה הָ֝אָ֗רֶץ קִנְיָנֶֽךָ׃ Mah rabu maasecha Adonai mal’ah ha’aretz kinyanecha, “How many are the things You have made, O LORD; You have made them all with wisdom; the earth is full of Your creations.”

This speaks to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s calling and invitation to be in Radical Amazement:  “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

In the spirit of being partners in creation, what are the amazing things you have made? What do you wish and strive to “fill the world with”?

Mincha: An Afternoon Conversation With Our Places

יִצְחָק תִּקֵּן תְּפִלַּת מִנְחָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר ״וַיֵּצֵא יִצְחָק לָשׂוּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִפְנוֹת עָרֶב״

Isaac instituted the afternoon prayer, as it is stated: “And Isaac went out to converse [lasuaḥ] in the field toward evening.” (Genesis 24:63)

There is an idea in the Talmud that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob established the three prayers we say each day (Morning, Afternoon and Evening). It is Isaac who established the afternoon prayer… Mincha

What does it mean that “Isaac went out to converse”? Why did he need to step out to find the opportunity to connect? Why is the word “lasuach” (to converse) used here and not the word “le’daber” to speak? 

As camp people, our work is about creating moments for people to “step out” and find themselves through conversation and connection. At the same time, that place we step into when we “step out” is our camp because that is our field, that is our place of connection. 

For some of us, we already know that we will not be returning to that place this summer, and for others we still are unsure. Take a moment and reflect on how you connect to camp even when you are not there throughout the year. 

Is there a place or moment in camp that you picture in your mind? Think about what it might mean to be in conversation with that place (“Lasuach Basadeh”). In addition, how might you create those moments of connection for your campers?

Maariv: Ending and Beginning Again

“Roll into dark, roll into light, night becomes day, day turns to night.” from Bar’chu by Noam Katz

As we picture the sun starting to set, the stars beginning to come out, we might be feeling like our day is ending. But in Jewish tradition, our days begin at night, so in reality, Maariv marks the start of a new day. So, we have arrived both at an end and at a beginning. Literally, right now, we are starting our day with a way of ending our day. We can say a prayer called Barechu at this moment – barechu, mevorach, baruch – all words for bracha, blessing. Baruch Hamevorach leolam va’ed– we bless the Blessed One for all time. We bless and feel blessed by the opportunity to both end and begin, every single day. 

Like the cycles of our days, our beginnings and our ends are usually not sudden transitions. We don’t flip a switch between day and night. In twilight, and in dawn, we find both times blended into one another. Light rolls into dark rolls into light rolls into dark rolls into light. On the beginning of the final day of Cornerstone, wondering and imagining how we will be beginning our summers, we continue to roll forward. We’ll carry with us the gratitude practice of Shacharit, and the Mincha conversation with our beloved places, and now, at Maariv, the chance to dwell in the in-between. 

Step away from your screen for a moment and close your eyes:

    • What is ending right now?
    • What is beginning right now?
    • What is happening in the space between?

What started as an accommodation for different time zones became a celebration of the very real contexts in which our participants were dwelling. Zoom not only let us into one another’s homes (or at least what we could see in the backgrounds of each box on screen), but also one another’s times. Rather than uniting in a specific space and time as we typically do, we had the opportunity to connect through the very fact that we existed in very different positions relative to the sun, and that wherever we were, whenever we were, we could reflect, practice, and pray together.

Our three day arc told its own story, creating moments of meaning and yearning that ultimately showed all of us — the organizers included —  not just what prayer is, but what prayer is FOR. 


Larry Bender recently graduated from Illinois State University with his BS in Management. While working with FJC, Larry was an Event Intern for The Cornerstone Fellowship over the last two years. His time with FJC, specifically working behind the scenes of Cornerstone, has launched Larry’s career towards operations in the Jewish community.

Seth Braunstein is the Director of the Szarvas Fellowships program which brings pluralistic groups of North American high school students to Camp Szarvas in Hungary and serves as one of the Rabbis of the camp. He is also a faculty member for Foundation for Jewish Camp. 

Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter, the national hub and catalyst for building, shaping, and supporting the field of Israel education. He also serves as a faculty member for Foundation for Jewish Camp.

Ariella Rosen is a rabbi and experiential educator, serving most recently as the Director of Admissions for the Rabbinical and Cantorial Schools of the Jewish Theological Seminary. She grew up at Camp Ramah in New England and is a faculty member for Foundation for Jewish Camp. 

Learn more about Cornerstone.