by Rabbi Lisa S. Greene, Moshavah Segel (Faculty)
I was scared. I had told myself I had to do it, but then gave myself permission to not. Sitting for hours watching and encouraging the chanichim (campers), I wondered: How do they do that? Oh, right, they are 40 years younger than me — their fears must have a different spin. Finally, I changed my mind. The recipe? A bit of deciding not to get stuck in my fear, a bit of being vulnerable or “daring greatly” as one of my favorite motivational writers, Brene Brown, writes. And, likely a reality of the rising tide of chanichim and madrichim (counselors) buoying me.
I put on a harness, and Bill, the ever calm expert climbing guide, helped me attach the rope. He showed me where there were ledges (my utterly not technical term) where I could put my feet. And so I began to climb.
I didn’t get very far — I didn’t need to — maybe twelve feet. Maybe 14. Just high enough to realize that I could do it — let go of my fear. I climbed up and then the chanich on the ground belayed me down. Adrenaline surged through me, and the chanichim and madrichim graciously expressed verbal pats on the back.
A few days later I read Torah in front of those chanichim and the rest of their eidah (unit), Moshavah, one of our two tent-dwelling units here at OSRUI. The Torah portion? Ma’asei. It lists our biblical ancestors’ stops and starts on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, Canaan. Commentators reflect on why these locations are listed. The reasons vary — from praising the travelers to acknowledging the discomfort involved in setting up and taking down camp, from marking happiness or unhappiness at particular spots to noting our ancestors’ perseverance on the journey even as they did not know what was next on the journey.
Before reading these verses, I asked the Mosh chanichim and madrichim to describe their recent tiyulim (trips) in a few sentences. The responses included terse descriptions — e.g. we went from x to y place; we started from here and went to there; we put our canoes in here and then took them out. There was some commentary about food and the like, and acknowledgement that they had witnessed beautiful sights in the sky and on the ground — moments when our campers yell out joyously, “Mah rabu ma’asecha Adonai” — how great are your works, Adonai” — words from the morning liturgy. Interestingly, particularly since the conversation was with 46 young teenagers, there was no mention of mosquitoes or heat.
I am certain that had I pushed that early-morning conversation, I would have heard more of what I heard on the trail of that rock-climbing trip and the biking trip the week before That these teens had overcome fears, taken on new challenges, learned to support their peers with belaying literal and figurative, eaten new foods, realized they could bike up that hill and through those miles, learned how to paddle down a river, figured out how to set up tents, waded through mud with their gear, and… I saw the chanichim meet these challenges this summer, just as I have seen it in my prior four years as a Mosh faculty member. It is amazing! With those observations in mind I was able to point out after the Torah reading that the stops and starts of our ancestors might well point us to reflect on the stops and starts of our personal journeys. Certainly on the tiyulim we journeyed as a group, but each person had peak and challenge moments, as in, say, experiencing and overcoming a fear of rock-climbing.
Toward the end of the rock climbing tiyul, veteran madrich Jacob Liu mused on the differences between that trip and those of say biking, canoeing or hiking which have certain measured mileage to achieve each day. Indeed. But with each trip comes its own invaluable learning and growing. What I witnessed on the rock-climbing trip at Devil’s Lake was that in a short time, the chanichim went from learning, practicing, and/or gaining new skills to parlaying their experience on the rocks even a few minutes prior to teaching others with confidence and enthusiasm. For sure they taught me!
Rabbi Lisa S. Greene, a rabbi of North Shore Congregation Israel, Glencoe, IL, is serving as faculty in Moshavah this summer and is ever grateful for the insights taught her by chanichim and madrichim each summer at OSRUI.