What’s Patience Got To Do With It?

By Joelle Kelenson

As a participant in the Yitro Fellowship, a professional development program for Assistant and Associate Jewish Camp Directors, I had an inspiring experience at our most recent conference. Yitro Fellows are deeply engaged in the study of Mussar (a daily practice of mindfulness focusing on enhancing virtues for the purposes of self-improvement), and I found myself in a workshop exploring the idea of Savlanut, or Patience.

In our learning, Rabbi Avi Orlow placed toy cars on the tables that we could play with as we discussed patience and how it manifests (or doesn’t) in our lives. We dove into a text study session called “From Place to Place: The Role of Honor in Pikude” (that week’s Torah portion). As we examined the text, we talked in depth about honor as a virtue, a behavior, and a manifestation of the divine. While I enjoyed the invigorating session, I kept trying to connect the dots of what patience had to do with both honor and toy vehicles. When no one offered an explanation, I walked away believing it would remain a mystery. Or so I thought.

In our closing session we had a short amount of time to write things we took away from each session. My brain was in overdrive, racking my memory in search of specifics and take aways as the facilitator yelled out one session at a time.  When she got to “From Place to Place”, I froze. What did I learn other than I enjoy playing with toy cars? But then I thought a bit harder. My time as a Yitro Fellow has shown me that nothing in this entire fellowship has ever been put in by happenstance – there must be a point to it.

Then, all of a sudden something clicked, the light bulb went off and the dots connected.  The answer was obvious: PATIENCE. I remembered that the toy cars weren’t all the same. Some people had ambulances, some had convertibles, some had school buses, and so on. Like cars, we all “share the road” as we move through the “highway of life”. While it’s important that we each try to reach our destination, we pull over when an ambulance is nearby or a school bus stops. We exhibit patience – and honor – when we prioritize the needs of others over our own. Pulling over and exercising patience demonstrates what we value – the safety of schoolchildren getting on or exiting a bus, and the preservation of life itself aboard an ambulance.

But, it’s not that simple. Patience exists on a spectrum and there is a sweet spot. Patience is the vehicle through which one’s honor is seen and it is what moves us to and from becoming a more complete spiritual being. Too much patience can take to you too far off map and keep you from getting where you need to go, but when you find that balance, you can maneuver past the obstacles being put in your way and move onwards and upwards.

As a camp professional, I connect to this concept of patience. We work ten months out of the year to create an amazing camp experience, and have to wait for the two months of summer during which all of our hard work finally comes together. Similarly, camp is a “vehicle” that enables campers to move forward while also practicing patience. We create a structure that allows them to succeed – much like “the rules of the road” that drivers follow – but just like Avi at Yitro, we don’t dictate meaning: we let them discover it for themselves over time. In particular, I think of our Shabbat celebrations at camp: how by “stopping” the forward motion of the rest of the week, we demonstrate our virtues.

The irony in this? I learned that when you rush the process of learning and are not patient, the point is lost. You can’t just magically appear at the destination of your choice: the journey takes time, and the choices you make along the way are important.

Joelle Kelenson is the Assistant Director at Camp Chi. Prior to joining the team at Chi, she worked at the JCC in Northern Virginia as the Director of School Age Programming. She completed her Masters Degree in Social Work and Jewish Education from Columbia and JTS and her bachelors degree in Sociology from McGill University.  Although she was a hesitant first time camper, over 2 decades later she hasn’t looked back since and loves her work in the field.