The Miracles in Our Places©
Rabbi David Baum
Wednesday is always barbecue day at Camp Ramah Darom (and it was also Yom Sport or Color War), so a number of staff members came together and studied Mishnah Berachot in order to complete the book. There are nine chapters in the book, the eight people studied, but the entire camp studied the ninth chapter together. I happened to be sitting with Avi's eidah, the youngest eidah in camp, Nitzanim. This was Avi's first summer as a hanich, a camper, at Ramah Darom. They asked us all to pair up, and so my chevrutah/learning partner was Avi. I was thrilled...I cannot say the same for Avi.
I want to read you the Mishnah we were chosen to study together, from the 9th chapter of Mishnah Berachot.
He/She that sees a place where miracles were done for Israel should say, “Blessed [is God] who did miracles for our ancestors in this place.”
So today, I want to explain the great miracles that I experienced at camp, that you should probably know about yourselves, and how we can bring these miracles with us to our lives and how we do Judaism.
Back to Wednesday - As we read the mishnah together, I got a little emotional – here we are, in this place, and were it not for this place, it is likely that Avi nor his siblings would not have been created. Not only is he alive, but we are studying Torah together! And trust me, getting Avi to study Torah with me is a miracle on its own.
The idea of the miracle of their lives got a hold of me, and I was lost in the moment. Avi didn't get it – what is so miraculous about this place, and Abbah, why are you getting emotional?!?
What's really interesting is that this mishnah is directly related to our Torah portion. The mishnah is all about Berachot, blessings. We say blessings after we experience something in this world, not just food or drink, but the wonders of nature and experience.
The Rabbis in the Talmud interpreted this to mean that one should say at least 100 blessings a day from the hebrew word Mah, what, which they turn into Meah, 100.
Experiencing this miracle, and noting it out loud, while annoying Avi, was an incredible moment for me. And so, I thought about how I can do more of this with him – to say blessings for daily occurrences together. To recognize the miracles that surround us on a daily basis, even if it annoys the people around us!
Which brought me to my next miracle: Miracle 2.
It was during my time at Ramah when the camp welcomed a number of families as part of Darom's family camp. These were people whom I had grown up with in youth group and spent time with at Ramah in the late 90's – you know, last century. Some of us kept in touch, some of us live in the same cities, but most of went off on our own separate paths. The incredible thing was that most of us married people we met on staff at Camp Ramah.
Intermarriage and the Conservative movement has been written and spoken about extensively this summer, but here I saw something interesting.
So what is the miracle here?!? There is a famous midrash where a Roman aristocrat woman and a famous rabbi have an intellectual debate – she says, if your God is so mighty and created the world, what has He been doing since creation? He answers – he's been matching up couples. The Roman woman laughs at him – are you kidding me! I can do that! – she tries to match her slaves up, 1000 male slaves and 1000 female slaves. The next day, they come back to her, one with a black eye, the other with a busted lip, another with a cracked skull – all asking to be released from their marriages. The woman went back to the rabbi and said, "There is no god like your God, and your Torah is true."
The rabbis answer – arranging marriages that work is akin to the splitting of the Red Sea.
The wise rabbi states, splitting the red sea, no problem! Getting couples together, now that's a miracle.
Steve Cohen, the famous sociologist, wrote recently that Ramah and other intensive Jewish and Zionist programs are particularly important, but not just for the reasons you might think. In an interview, he said the following:
“Ramah and such camps are among the best ways to assure that our young Jews meet and marry other Jews, especially now that intermarriage is being undertaken so widely. Because of their Ramah friendships, they marry fellow campers, or they participate in strong Jewish social networks that make romantic referrals. Many educationally intensive Jewish camps, those with a strong Jewish mission, accomplish similar goals. Specifically, Ramah bestows Jewish cultural capacity and the ability to function as educated Jews in the real world. It also satisfies the need for meaning that so many of our young people want and need, and connects them to a strong Jewish community for years beyond their time at camp — often for a lifetime.”
In a sense, perhaps we can say that God is working through these Jewish summer camps – creating matches that last a life time.
Miracles do not happen by God alone – we, human beings, are a part of that miracle making. As we saw in the story, two Jews marrying in an open world can be a miraculous act, but we know it doesn't happen without our help and support.
My humble ask is that we try and change the conversation that we are having about intermarriage – that if we want to promote in-marriage, we should think about sending our young people to work on staff at Camp Ramah and other immersive Jewish experiences over the summer. Internships may look good on a resume and might make you some more money in the future, but finding a nice Jewish boy or girl to spend your life with is truly priceless.
And finally, Miracle #3 – when your child follows in your footsteps.
As parents, we desperately want our children to love the same things we love, whether it is a sports team, or certain foods, or places, but especially God and Judaism. It is truly an elusive thing – but sometimes, miracles do happen.
On the last Shabbat at camp, Avi woke up and was ready to leave – it's been a long time away from home, a month, and he was ready to go home. I miss Imma, and my bed, and I hate camp. Ok, so my heart skipped a beat, but I took a break and said, we will talk tonight about you leaving early, how about that? I knew what was coming, Havdallah, but would the magic of Havdallah work on Avi?
Sure enough, as we were swaying in a circle together reciting the words of the prayers, Avi and the rest of his bunk broke down in tears – the shoe was on the other foot! Now he was crying! He told me, “I don't want to leave! I don't want to leave my friends, I love camp. I want to stay at Camp Ramah!” The music was loud, but I whispered the following words:
בָּרוּךְ שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה
Blessed is God who made did miracles for our ancestors in this place!He drank the kool aid – he experienced something he couldn't quite explain...
And my final lesson that I learned is – sometimes, love takes time. We try and instill these loves with our kids, sometimes it works right away, sometimes it never works, and sometimes it takes time. Don't give up – share the things you love with your children, even if it annoys them.
Three miracles, three lessons:
- Recognize the miracles that surround us on a daily basis, articulate them with our words, even if it annoys the people around us!
- The miracle of connection in a Jewish context – let's explore how we can increase these
- Share the things you love with your children, even if it annoys them
May we all experience miracles in the days, weeks, months and years ahead – together. Shabbat Shalom.