Rabbi David Widzer, a member of the Eisner Camp faculty, shares the importance of camp to his congregation:
When a student at Temple Beth El becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah, on Shabbat morning when we take the Torah from the Ark, we call forward the student’s parents, grandparents, and in some cases great-grandparents. Then, we hand the Torah scroll from one generation to the next, until it ends up with the student. We do this to show the transmission of our Jewish values generation by generation, ultimately entrusting the youngest generation with carrying them forward into our world.
I am currently serving as faculty at Eisner Camp. The Opening Ceremony of camp takes that passing of the Torah to a whole new level. The entire camp community gathers in our outdoor sanctuary, seated by age group. The oldest campers (entering 10th grade) stand and, accompanied by lots of singing, pass a Torah scroll from person to person. Actually, we use 4 different Torah scrolls so the ceremony will go faster! When everyone in the unit has held a Torah, the 10th graders sit and the 9th grade unit stands. They pass the Torah scrolls amongst themselves. Then the 8th graders, the 7th graders, and so on, down to the 2nd and 3rd grade unit. As one of the rabbis on camp, my role is to help facilitating the passing, especially with the younger campers. When literally everyone on camp has held a Torah scroll, the four oldest campers bring forward the four Torah scrolls, accompanied by the four youngest campers, and install them in the Ark at the front of the sanctuary.
It’s a dramatic and moving ceremony, filled with joyful singing and dancing. But the message is clear – Jewish values are transmitted from generation to generation of Jewish campers and are upheld by every member of the community. It’s not that this is Hebrew School in the summer. It’s that the values of kindness, fairness, inclusion, justice, friendship, and peace permeate everything at camp, from the choosing of teams and encouragement on the sports fields to the sharing of clean-up duties in the dining hall. Torah values are passed between campers in how they talk to each other and treat each other. Jewish values are installed in the heart of the community, as surely as the Torah scrolls in the Ark.
Whether at Eisner, Temple Beth El, or any other Jewish community, let us always be part of passing on our Jewish values, generation to generation, and carrying them forward into the world.