by Geoffrey Prass and Rabbi Fred Greene
On any kibbutz in Israel, there are a wide variety of crops and animals, like on many farms. In recent decades, they have even grown beyond agriculture and have created industries and products that support their communities.
At OSRUI, our little kibbutz has a lovely gan (garden), a refet (which is a “dairy,” but at OSRUI, it is our collection of sheep, goats, hens and a very loud rooster). In our eidah (unit) that is called Kibbutz HaTzofim (often referred to as just Tzofim), we are growing something else that is even more amazing than the start-up tech in Israel! We are helping to raise up young children as thoughtful, responsible, resilient Jews.
How do we do that at our kibbutz?
We provide mentors and role models to our chanichim (chanichim) so that they can experience acts of chesed (kindness), kavod (respect), an appreciation of teva (nature), and inspiring young people — their madrichim (counselors) and tzevet (staff) — that show them an example of how to act like a mensch.
These teaching moments happen in many different ways for these kids during their lives, to be sure. What happens at Tzofim is a bit unique. Young campers travel down the “low” road to our kibbutz, they leave their screens and tech behind for a couple of weeks, and have to engage in LOTS of face-to-face conversations. Some are here for the first time; for them, it is not uncommon to be hesitant or nervous. Some might even be a little homesick. But then after a few days something incredible happens. It isn’t uncommon to see one of those new kids comfort someone else! They miss their loved ones at home but can take in all of the gifts that they are given at camp. To witness them becoming more independent, resilient, and compassionate is to see the greatest fruits of our Kibbutz HaTzofim labors.
In the Talmud, we learn:
Rabbi Elazar said Rabbi Hanina said: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said: ‘And all your children [banayich] shall be taught of Adonai, and great shall be the peace of your children.’ (Isaiah 54:13) Do not read your children [banayich], but your builders [bonayich].” (Talmud Brakhot 64a)
Remember, in the Torah and the Talmud, there are no vowels. So the words for “your children” and “your builders” are spelled the same way with only consonants. In Tzofim, we provide a safe place for them to grow as individuals and into a sense of what community means.
How blessed are we all that you have shared them with us! May they continue to go and grow from strength to strength!
Geoffrey Prass is the Executive Director and Director of Education at Shir Hadash in Wheeling, IL.
Fred Greene is the Rabbi at Congregation of Har HaShem of Boulder, Colorado.