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There's No "Whine" in Swine: Shabbat at Camp Newman

California has long been the land of many seasons: flood, fire, earthquake…  This summer seems to be for us – and, truth be told, for much of the country and world – the season of the flu.  Influenza A, and for some, H1N1, the “dreaded Swine Flu”.  See Swine Ain’t Kosher at Jewish Summer Camp

I’m sitting here in the middle of a Jewish summer camp, Santa Rosa, CA’s URJ Camp Newman, which has had its share of the flu cases.  And while the camp leadership made the prudent decision to postpone the start of camp, ultimately canceling the first session, I must confess that much of camp goes on normally. 

[Non-medical observation: there seems to be relatively very little of this swine flu at camp.  It appears that at any one time, only only about five to ten are either sick
or in the recovering/isolation phase.  At this point (ptew, ptew, ptew – I spit on the notion), there is no mass infection…  Given that on any given day at camp during any given summer there are that many or more with other types of illness, we are doing pretty good.  Ptew, ptew, ptew.  By the way, the leadership of this camp has been amazingly proactive, prudent and open – see Thanks May be Kosher Even if Swine is Not.]

You see, though there are moments when the flu is miserable; most who have had it are saying it is just 24-36 hours of fever and aches are uncomfortable, but then the worst is over and the next 4-5 days is just waiting until the contagion period has passed.  Amazingly, the main compaint to this separation period was that it was boring.  So our ad hoc bikur cholim (visiting the sick) committees responded by delivering DVDs and Subway sandwiches, organizing private concerts with Dan Nichols, visiting from a distance,” and arranging for the recovering group to dress in white to attend Shabbat services.  You see, there is no “Whine” in swine.  Especially once you realize that you can still have fun at camp in the midst of the recovery.  Its the one time that “separate but equal” may still have some meaning…

Still, camp runs well on its “new normal”.  We have pool time (breicha) and meal time (aruchat erev), CIT and Avodah leadership sessions and more. 

Shabbat Is Spiritual
So when Shabbat came and went for the 270+ staff, faculty, CITs (counselors in training) and Avodahniks (11th grade leadership track), it still felt like the Camp Shabbat we look forward to each year.  It was relaxing.  It was mystically magical.  After a period of worrying about what would ultimately happen when this dreaded flu hits the camp, Shabbat at Camp Newman brought with it an important Torah lesson: There’s No “Whine” in Swine!

As the pictures evidence, Shabbat was as beautiful as ever.  Dressed in white, we gathered with the songleaders in the Beit Tefilah, our outdoor amphitheater chapel.  With beautiful pines in the background and a gorgeous blue sky overhead, we sang our songs of praise and offered words of thanks, to the Holy One.  Later that evening, we had our sweet song session on the basketball courts and Israeli dancing too.  The Shabbat was about as amazingly spiritual – “normal summer camp” as ever – with just three additions:

  • New Kind of Mechitza: We had separate seating (still mixed by gender), placing  staff who had been exposed during staff week over here, while CIT’s and Avodanikim – who had not – sat over there.
  • Nefesh section: the far back rows, a distance from the staff seating, were designated for the those whose souls (nefesh=soul) needed inspiration, while their bodies continued to move through the seven day flu isolation period
  • Special Prayer: We added a prayer, Mi Shebeirach, for all those who are ill or recovering, as well as for all of us who had to shelve hopes one kind of camp summer and replace them with goals for a different, though ultimately equally meaningful, camp summer. 

The rabbi (me), for his story, dressed up like Moses, who carried on a cell phone texting conversation with God, about what to do with the detrius of the first set of 10 commandment tablets.  While the second set was whole and holy, what about the broken pieces of the first set?  Weren’t those broken pieces holy as well?  Under God’s guidance, Moses decided to place those broken pieces within the ark as well; broken and whole residing together in holiness. 

Moses then helped us realize that the broken first tablets represented the brokenness we all feel: from those whose bodies are/were temporarily broken by the flu, those whose hopes were shattered for a camper-filled first week, those whose sleep was interrupted as they worked tirelessly to ensure that those in camp were safe and those who would ultimately come up to camp would be cared for and equally safe, those campers and their families from the canceled first session whose dreams for a few weeks at camp were destroyed by the need to make responsible, prudent decisions, and those of the staff whose painstaking prepared plans for the summer had to be reconsidered and restructured. 

Moses invited us all to close our eyes, envision a summer goal/hope that to be put aside and then to envision a new hope/goal for the remainder of the summer.  Moses then asked us to place both within the holy space in our hearts, those place marked sacred for summer camp.  Like Moses did with the two sets of tablets, let us carry both of them – broken dreams and new hopes – side by side. 

At summer camp, there’s no “whine” even amidst the swine, because everyone – those who are healthy and those who are not, those in recovery and those helping them recover – worked together to make it a spiritual, summer camp shabbat. 

When we placed tallitot over our heads, creating a physical manifestation of the sukat shalom (the shelter of peace) that we pray about in the Hashkeeveinu prayer, we all knew that we were blessed: blessed to be here, blessed to have healing come speedily, and blessed that summer camp life continues.  Because there is no “whine” in swine.

BTW, Rabbi Rick Winer’s Divrei Derech blogs about how things are returning to normal here at Camp Newman

One comment

  1. rabrick says:

    I completely concur. However, I think we should minimize our spitting (ptew, ptew, ptew) to ward off the evil eye. We'll have to come up with an alternative that doesn't spread germs. 🙂

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