From the Director’s Desk – May 2019
This coming Shabbat will mark the 20th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. As many of our campers remember, or as they are experiencing now, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah journey is an incredibly formative moment in one’s life – truly considering what it means to become a Jewish adult. Of course, upon reflection of this important milestone, I have been harkening back to other formative moments in my Jewish life. One of those moments occurred on the very first day of my first summer on staff at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Rabbi David Soloff, camp director at the time, shared the beginning of his favorite poem with the 150 assembled staff members: “L’chol Eesh Yesh Shem.” Every Person Has a Name.
I would go on to spend another four summers on staff at Ramah, and each summer, Rabbi Soloff would open with these same four words. He made knowing each other’s names a critical priority. He would speak about the importance of using someone’s name as a foundation for becoming better acquainted. To understand how to support that person, how to nurture him/her. He taught me the value of the individual, as part of the community, and the ways in which we could bring that value to life – one camper, one staff member at a time.
Given his imminent retirement, Ramah recently honored Rabbi Soloff for his 44 years of incredible service to literally thousands of campers and staff members. Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, spoke at the celebration. “Rabbi Soloff modeled never standing still, constantly learning and growing,” Fingerman said. “His ability to remain open and to always ask “what are we learning?” resulted in his early embrace of innovative initiatives, and encouraged others to follow his lead.” What a profound message and lesson to have imparted upon Jewish young adults.
When I became camp director here at Capital Camps three years ago, I thought about the types of lessons I wanted to impart on our staff. I knew that I wanted to pass along many of the values that I learned from Rabbi Soloff. Each summer, on the first and last day of staff training, I now read “Every Person Has a Name” to our staff. I share what it meant to me, and what it can mean for our team. Moreover, I, too, share in Jeremy Fingerman’s understanding of Rabbi Soloff’s desire to always improve, to always get better. We can and we must continue to seek out ways to enhance the way we develop Jewish young people.
This week’s parasha (weekly portion), Emor, contains a few major components: the traditions related to the annual holiday cycle (how/when to celebrate a number of major holidays), the famous “eye for an eye” proclamation, and notably, instructions for the priests – how their conduct ought to be held to a higher standard. Of course, today – 20 years after standing on the bimah to speak about the portion, as I became a Bar Mitzvah – I understand the words and lessons very differently.
Today, standing on the doorstep of too many incredible summer opportunities to count – opportunities that will undoubtedly result in excitement, joy, friendship, laughter, and so much more, I’m thinking about the priests – about the higher standard. I’m thinking about the ways in which we can hold ourselves to a higher standard, whether we are labeled as priests or not. That’s a tall task, and an important one as well. But, let’s start somewhere. Let’s begin with “L’chol Eesh Yesh Shem.”
See you soon!