By Eli Burg, Porter Creek Program Director and Camp Newman alumnus
This week, as Avodah finished their very first visit to Porter Creek since the fire, they all sat on a bench of one of the surviving Upper Field cabins. In front of them stood seven Avodahniks and one of their advisers holding eight beautiful murals. The entire eidah was gathered to install these eight small paintings as signs lining the trail to the Star. Each sign illustrates their interpretation of the narrative of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt, from the Red Sea to Sinai.
Creating these signs – representing their love and dedication for the Camp Newman community – allowed these Avodahniks to take a big first step to reclaim our home, mark the beginning of rebuilding, and reinvigorate camp’s traditions and physical space. For decades, the two-month Avodah program for rising 11th graders has built a legacy of beautifying camp through inspirational works of art, blazing hiking trails, founding and tending the camp kibbutz, and building structures around camp. This year’s Avodahniks revived that legacy five weeks ago when they dreamed up the idea for this project at a special Avodah program.
The program began with Avodahniks viewing a museum of past Avodah projects side-by-side with Avodah alumni from the past two decades at camp who shared their memories of how giving back to the camp community impacted their lives. Avodahniks then split into groups for text study of the Exodus. One group, lead by Cantor Paul Busch, closely examined the journey from the Red Sea to Revelation and connected it to the idea of creating signposts along camp’s iconic Star Trail. The project idea was born! This group went on to brainstorm concept designs and text, and decided each sign should include a verse from the Torah and in some cases Talmud and Midrash (Rabbinic interpretation of a Bible passage), plus a guiding question as a way to spark dialogue with future generations of campers about their identity and the kehillah kedosha (holy community) of camp.
By storyboarding this narrative, the campers essentially created their own midrash – retelling the Israelites’ journey to Sinai from the perspective of the kahal (community). They wove in how camp post-fire was like the Israelites wandering the desert in search of redemption. Each phrase and question, according to Avodahnik Alex Linden Ross, was carefully chosen and studied to invoke discussion about the connection between our every day lives and the inheritance of Torah our tradition is based on. After completing storyboards and design concepts, a new set of Avodahniks along with their Avodah adviser Rachel Chancellor began illustrating and painting the eight signs based on their ideas.
Finally this week, the entire eidah united to complete the project. With each artist holding the sign they painted, their fellow Avodahnicks followed them to the signposts already embedded in the rock along the trail. Each artist took a few moments to share insights into their illustration and how they consciously made stylistic choices to support each word of Torah they painted. Then each group attached their sign to its post, and headed back down to the field so that they could hike to the Star all together – sharing in the beauty of the work their 2019 class contributed to camp for today’s campers and future generations of campers to enjoy.