by Margeaux Dressner-Wolberg, Rosh Chinuch & Rosh Tzofim ’23
At Newman, all ages have the opportunity to deepen their connections to Judaism and express themselves in new ways! On a very special Saturday this summer, 10 of our female+ shlichot (Israeli staff members) were called up to the Torah for the very first time (and one read for the second time ever)! They studied together for a week leading up to the ceremony, gaining familiarity with the Torah tropes and practicing holding the Torah and reading from it.
Each read a section of Parshat Pinchas, a portion of the story about the daughters of Zelophechad, highlighting the importance of women’s voices. On Shabbat, all 10 read beautifully and were blessed with aliyot by campers and counselors in their sessions. Both Junior and Teen Camp especially enjoyed throwing candy at the readers, a tradition that symbolizes wishes of sweetness for the future, and celebrating together as a camp community. Below are some reflections from the Mishlachat about their experiences:
Yuval: “It was very exciting and emotional. I never thought that I would feel that way reading the Torah, because for my whole life I thought that girls could not read Torah. In the beginning I didn’t feel that it was meaningful, but when I read from the Torah I felt like something moved in me. I didn’t feel such a strong connection to Torah and Judaism growing up, and this experience helped me reconsider how I looked at Judaism until now. When I was studying and learning the teamim (tropes), I felt that even my small portion of Torah was full of meaning, like an entire world, and it was only a tiny section of the greater Torah and greater Jewish tradition!”
Hila: “As a woman, it was nice to feel that I wasn’t being treated differently. For everyone there, it was totally normal for a woman to be on the bima.”
Ofir: “It was exciting and very lovely, and I felt connected to the other Israeli girls. It was a once in a lifetime experience!”
Shachar: “It was very exciting and brought me closer to my faith. I told my whole family about it, and hopefully I will get the opportunity to do it again!”
Tamar: “When I decided to read Torah this summer, I remembered the moments before I turned 12 when my parents really wanted me to read Torah. I was afraid and I didn’t want to, because it is not so accepted in Israel and I didn’t want to be different from my friends and my surroundings. But eight years later at Camp Newman, I felt much safer and much more comfortable having a bat mitzvah and reading Torah for the first time in my life. I feel much more connected to Judaism than I ever was.”
Or: “It wasn’t my first time reading from the Torah, but it was definitely the most special one. Being able to experience this amazing feeling, surrounded by my campers, who I hopefully inspired by reading, my friends from the Mishlachat, who shared the excitement with me, and Margeaux, who was so supportive throughout the whole process… everything just felt amazing. I felt encouraged to express and explore my Jewish identity and connection to Torah, and I felt like everyone who watched understood how much it meant to me. I’m so glad camp gave me a great experience that I’ll always remember.”
Tair: “It was really important for me to read Torah because I grew up in a place that always limited me in my Judaism. I went to a religious school for twelve years and I never felt comfortable trying different ways of expressing my Judaism. When I was on Bronfman, it opened me up to a different world and I started to investigate diverse religious practices, so when I had a chance to do a bat mitzvah, it was a meaningful moment to prove to myself that Judaism is something I can connect to and be part of.”
Maya: “It was an amazing experience. In Israel we don’t get the chance to read from the Torah, so it meant a lot. I got the chance to explore a new side of myself that is closer to Jewish roots.”
Many of our summer shlichim tell us that after returning from camp they feel more connected with their Jewish identities and often seek out community in the Reform Jewish communities in Israel. We’re still kvelling!