Words of wisdom from Rabbi Erin, Harold Kushner and Debbie Friedman

By URJ Camp Newman Camp Director, Rabbi Erin Mason

I was sitting on a beach one summer day, watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand. They were hard at work building an elaborate sandcastle by the water’s edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal passages. Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand. I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work. But they surprised me. Instead, they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and sat down to build another castle. I realized that they had taught me an important lesson. All the things in our lives, all the complicated structures we spend so much time and energy creating, are built on sand. Only our relationships to other people endure. Sooner or later, the wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up. When that happens, only the person who has somebody’s hand to hold will be able to laugh.  (Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Wasn’t Enough)

This week, Ruben and I had the privilege of gathering with the URJ Youth Leadership team for learning and inspiration. During sessions with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Dr. Bob Ditter, and colleagues, we focused on stress, resilience, gratitude, and joy in our personal lives and in the important work that we do.

The text above is one we studied on resilience, and it so resonated with me in reflecting on our community’s experience. We have said again and again how love and support of those who care about camp has lifted us up and strengthened us, and we have tried to do the same for those around us who have been impacted by the natural disasters in Northern and Southern. It is through being with each other and helping one another that we push through. We have seen FaceBook Live musical events, benefit concerts at congregations, informal camp gatherings. People reach each other through social media and in person. People give time, money, love. And it is this love that permeates all.

Being in community helps people deal with their pain… Oftentimes, when we’re ill or depressed we feel spiritually wounded. We withdraw, we isolate, and we leave ourselves out in the cold. During healing services, individuals – sometimes hundreds of people – stand together; share time, song, and prayer; and acknowledge that we’re grieving, we’re in pain, and we’re in solidarity. We’re not seeking miracles, we’re not casting away our crutches – we’re finding a way to deal with the fact we might not be able to put them down. We literally take the readings and music from our bodies to sustain us through the trauma. So much singing and spirit come from the pain. (Debbie Friedman)

Debbie Friedman (z”l), who was a song leader at Camp Swig (among other camps) and shaped much of Reform Jewish music, was one of the leaders of a healing service in NYC. Rabbi Jacobs shared with us that even when Debbie was ill and in pain herself, she made a point to be at this service. She lived what she taught; healing comes in community. It is from community that we find strength. Our camp community is constantly being built and growing. It is transformed summer after summer, gathering after gathering, year in and year out. The bonds that tie this community together are strong because of the love we share, the joy we bring to one another, and the support we know we can rely on.

This Shabbat, may we find strength in those who surround us. May the love and support of our community lift us up and hold us. May we take hold of the hand of a friend, and, laughing, sit down to build our next sand castle together.

Shabbat Shalom.