By Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Ph.D., National Director of Recruitment & Admissions and President’s Scholar, Office of Community Engagement at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Scholar-in-Residence at OSRUI.
Jewish values and Hebrew words permeate every moment, every place and are modeled by every person here at OSRUI. Respect, celebration, love and community thrive because of the counselors and faculty that teach and model these values in everything they do. While their work focuses on the campers and integrating them into camp culture, programs, learning and building the friendships that ‘last a lifetime,’ something special happens for the staff and faculty as well. And in many cases, they themselves are the products of the values and educational power of this place. They’ve returned to give and help create the community and experiences that made them who they are: today’s leaders, rabbis, cantors and educators of Reform Judaism.
It has to be said: Staff and faculty pour out endless energy, leadership, wisdom and loving care so that each camper is embraced and encouraged and so that the experience of building a sacred immersive community reaches its fullest potential. They too are here because of the ideas and values and relationships that OSRUI makes possible. In addition to the leading and singing and praying and learning with the campers, however, the staff and faculty also got a few opportunities to learn and fill themselves with more knowledge.
While they are running between programs and taking care of campers, the staff needed to fill their minds and hearts as well. Multiple staff lunch “limudim” (learning) sessions focused on narratives in rabbinic literature that reveal how leadership, gender and power are often in tension in the ancient world but play out very differently in their leadership experiences. We got to study narratives of ancient leadership, seduction, notions of purity, and legal thinking.
The faculty, too, gathered to study every single day in addition to their many duties. They studied rabbinic narratives on arguing with God. How did the rabbis of the Talmud understand the theological challenges that Abraham, Moses and Hannah waged against God? What does each case study teach us about prayer, justice and what it means to be Jewish? More in the days ahead!