A Shabbat Drash – December 23, 2016
By Lily Gottlieb, Assistant Director of Youth Engagement at URJ Camp Newman

Joseph and his misadventures in this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, bring up themes of bullying and acceptance that I see played out today in my role as a camp leader. As the saga goes, when Joseph’s father, Jacob, shows favoritism toward Joseph, nine of Joseph’s 10 brothers, unsurprisingly, become jealous – and plot to kill him. But Reuben, the oldest, convinces them to draw no blood and instead throw Joseph in a ditch, secretly intending to go back and save him later. This brave trickery works only to a point, as the nine schemers change their minds and sell Joseph into slavery. Thus begins Joseph’s journey to Egypt and Jacob’s long period of mourning.

Vayeishev is wrought with extreme family dynamics, unfathomable betrayals and crippling grief, yet its teachings feel close to home and relevant. Joseph’s brothers engage in a familiar kind of bullying. Joseph is eccentric. He dreams vivid pictures of the future, wears a lavish coat that is unique yet meaningful to him, and is loved and favored by his father, but he does not fit in with his peers and, as a result, is subject to their cruel scheming. We also see a familiar character in Reuben, the oldest brother who is charged with wisdom and leadership, yet also struggles to maintain his role in the pack. He saves his subjugated brother’s life, but not in the way he intended. He is brave, but he also plays it safe.

Sending a child to camp for the first time is an exciting and potentially anxious moment. It takes a special kind of courage to drop your child off at the front of Camp Newman, the bus stop or the airline gate to send them on this new social adventure. With this, comes a great responsibility for the staff and directors.

As a team, we look to the teachings of Vayeishev, recognizing that the actions of Joseph’s brothers are deplorable yet human, and that the desire of Reuben to maintain his acceptance in the group is understandable, though disappointing. We hold as a high moral value and priority that our job is to create leaders who stand up like Reuben, yet do not fear for their own reputation. We foster a community of acceptance where children like Joseph, proud of his special clothing and creative gifts, thrive and love to share their unique qualities with their friends.

I recently spoke with a parent who told me that one of the first things her son said to her upon returning home from Winter Camp was, “everyone is accepted at Camp Newman!”  This powerful statement shows that our aim to create a place that fosters diversity, creativity and pride in one’s individuality – a place where kids like Joseph would feel at home – is a norm here at Camp Newman. Inspired by Reuben’s good intentions, I am proud and honored as a camp leader to be responsible for actively creating this place where all campers experience love and acceptance during their time in our community.