Simcha – Joy
Judaism, according to one accounting, has at least 15 different words to describe joy. From rina (meaning joyous song) to simcha (meaning pure joy), Jewish living is supposed to be an expression of joyous living. I have learned over the course of the years that while simcha (joy) is possible even during the darkest of times, it often takes purposeful openness to allow joy to permeate your life.
That’s one of the reasons I love going to summer camp. At camp, more than almost anywhere else in the world, people allow joy to permeate every corner and every moment of every day.
Walk with me around URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California, and we will notice more smiles and hear more laughter than is usual amongst any group of teens at school or at home. Hugs of joy are a regular feature of their interactions; expressions of love and caring abound.
I once asked a staff member why people seem so happy. He thought for a minute and responded, “Here at camp we are free. Free from pressures. Free from judgment. Free to be who we really are.”
Chofesh – Freedom
Campers the world over look forward to that block during the day when they can do what they choose for as long as they choose. In most camps, staff members are spread throughout certain areas, giving campers free access to activities ranging from basketball and skateboarding to arts ‘n crafts and just hanging out in the sun. At Camp Newman, where my wife and I are chaperoning a delegation of 39 Jewish campers, this period is called chofesh, after the Hebrew word meaning break or freedom.
Wandering around Camp between my assigned responsibilities as Rosh Faculty (faculty dean), I have come to think that the word chofesh designates more than that specific hour or so of free time. It seems to describe the central characteristic of the feeling that envelopes each camper and staff member. In fact, chofesh may characterize the entire Jewish summer camping experience. How so?
Bracha – Blessing
I asked a group of Camp Newman campers to describe the blessings that camp brings into their lives. They responded:
- I’m happy.
- I’m able to be who I really am.
- No one is judging me.
- I can make new friends so easily here.
- Judaism is so alive and joyful.
- There’s so much love.
- I’m at home, more than when I am back home.
Heartwarming words from wonderful kids.
Joy, Freedom and Blessing
The last thing Senior Camp Director Ruben Arquilevich reminds his staff before the first parents arrive is to smile. Through a silly “Show off your Best Smile” contest that he hosts, Ruben inculcates within his staff a simple message: With your smile, you let your joy shine through. So revel in the freedom that camp brings to you and to our campers. Its a bracha, a holy blessing. Enjoy it, cherish it, share it.
I would love to tell you more about Camp Newman, but that will need to await another blogpost. For now, I just want to wander around and revel in the blessing of joyful freedom.