Torah Study with Rabbi Fenster

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Shalom from OSRUI! Every year, more than 50 Rabbis, Cantors, and Educators who spend time with us at camp in the summer.  They work closely with the Rashei Eidot (unit heads) to create fun Jewish experiences that are educational and engaging. Today we are joined by Rabbi Jason Fenster as he teaches a message from this week’s double Torah Portion, Matot-Masei.

For forty years the Israelites wandered the desert. As Parshat Matot-Masei tells us, they went from place to place to place, all the while desperate to get back home. For all those years, they waited and hoped and dreamt about what it might be like to be back in their special, sacred place. And for those of us who love OSRUI, while it may only be ten or eleven months of waiting, it feels like forty years until we get to come back to this sacred space in Oconomowoc.

But it’s not enough just to wander. Eventually the Israelites will get there and then they will have to figure out what kind of a community to build. The same is true here at camp. Some are returning again after many years, some are brand new. But for all of us, this is a brand new year at camp. New friends, new living spaces, new eidot (units), and a new community that we have to create together. 

This week all across OSRUI, we have been talking about just that. We have spent our week on kehillah (community). In our limmudim (Jewish life and learning), our tefillot (prayer), and in the time we have spent in our ohalim (tents) and tzrifim (cabins), we have wondered what makes a sacred community and what our part is in maintaining it. And we have learned that a community is only as strong as the commitment the people in it make to each other and the way they choose to care for one another.

Matot-Masei talks about oaths and vows—the promises we make and how important it is that we keep them. As we form and reform community here at camp, we make and remake commitments to each other. We have made promises that we will care for each other and treat one another with love, dignity, and respect. Promises to protect and cherish all that makes OSRUI such a remarkable and sacred space.

During my time here, my family and I have experienced that commitment time and again. I see it when chanichim (campers) check in on someone who is having a hard day. I see it in infectious joy and ruach (spirit/enthusiasm) of the madrichim (counselors) at all hours of the day, no matter how much (or little!) sleep they’ve gotten in the past week. I see it in the creativity of the segel (faculty) of rabbis, cantors, and educators bringing Judaism to life in new ways. I see it the care and dedication of the mazkirut (senior leadership) who spend all year getting ready to make camp all that it is and can be. And I see it in the way the chanichim in Tzofim dance and play with my 2 and 4-year-olds when they come for tefillah and meals.

What a gift to spend time in this place. And I know that once our time here is done, and we wander for 40 or so years until we get to return, we will be strengthened by the passion, commitment, and dedication of the people who make and remake OSRUI each and every year.

Rabbi Jason Fenster is a Rabbi at Congregation BJBE in Deerfield, Illinois and is serving as faculty for Tzofim Gimmel.