By Levi Gettleman, S’gan Rosh Eidah 

Rishonim and Maccabiah are two eidot (sessions) at camp that have long standing identities which have become synonymous with the session itself. The quintessential Rishonim experience is focused on nature in all forms, from wilderness survival to hiking to meditation to trailblazing. On the other hand, Maccabiah campers spend four weeks immersed in sports, movement, games, and competition. When we first began looking at how to merge these two distinct eidot into one for this summer, we immediately began to search for the overlap. What emerged was a four-week program that takes Jewish foundations and gives campers the chance to bring Jewish texts and values to life through both nature and sports activities. 

Rishonim Maccabiah campers begin each week by exploring a different Jewish value and looking at some of the foundational texts behind the value. The values that we picked are all values which not only frame an understanding of both nature and sports, but also the world around us on a broader level. Our first week was centered around Seder (Order or Structure). Rishonim Maccabiah campers focused on understanding the story of Creation by exploring the relationship between harmony and chaos through a few different games. Campers also had the chance to consider what creation fully entails by creating their own towns out of cardboard, popsicle sticks, and construction paper and creating a constitution to go alongside it. 

After a preliminary exploration of the texts, each week campers spent three days in a Shvil (track) of their choice. The Shvil offerings for each week were developed to bring the texts from the beginning of the week to life in new ways. In our first week, some campers spent their time inventing and playing brand-new sports. Others spent time improving their frisbee skills and considering how sports harness the power of both chaos and order while using the same basic building blocks, like throwing and catching. Meanwhile, some of the campers explored creation through hiking while learning about wilderness identification and survival skills. Finally, a group of campers began to consider how humanity interacts with creation by beginning the process of rebuilding and blazing a trail. 

The trailblazing project has long been a cornerstone of the Rishonim experience, allowing campers the opportunity to leave their mark on camp and showcase some beautiful spots around camp that would otherwise go unnoticed or unappreciated. This summer, we decided that the trailblazing project would be to restore the Rish-o-Dream trail, which was originally blazed in 2012. This summer, we wanted to not only clear all of the overgrowth, but also help to make the trail less steep and more hike-able and usable by all. 

At the end of each week, campers were given the opportunity to reflect on their learning and the connections between their Shvil and the value theme before moving onto a new set of texts. Week two was focused on the value of Achrayut (Responsibility) and began with exploring Jewish texts about responsibility in different contexts, including Ba’al Taschit (the prohibition against destruction), The Holiness Code, rules about resting the land, and even how to make reparations in Numbers 5. After, campers made Public Service Billboards on how to be responsible at camp. To bring it all together, Rishonim Maccabiah played a giant game of capture the flag to demonstrate responsibility. 

Throughout the week, while a new group of campers had their turn to work on the trail, other campers took a deep dive into what it means to be an environmentalist and explored different strategies for being responsible for the environment, like legislative advocacy. Additionally, another group of campers learned about sports ethics and envisioned what it looks like for athletes to be responsible to the game, to other opponent and teammates, and to their broader community. Other campers spent the week learning about responsibility through teamwork while playing team sports. To wrap the week up, campers wrote responsibility goals and shared them with one another as part of Havdallah, the conclusion of Shabbat, on Saturday Night. 

Week three programming all centered around the theme of Shmirah (Preservation) and our text focus began with exploring the difference in the roles that God gives to Adam in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 and the injunction to master the garden and to tend it. Campers also spent time writing their own responses to Jewish Ethical questions about self-preservation and preserving other lives (Pikuach Nefesh). 

In Shvil, many campers explored self-preservation in two forms: stimulating the mind through extreme mind games, including crosswords, KenKens, and Logic Puzzles, and becoming more in touch with the body through stretching and other physical activities. Campers could also learn about appreciating and preserving nature with music and mediation shvil, where campers practiced radical amazement. Another group of campers continued working on the trail while thinking about how man-made features, like trails, can help to make nature more accessible and preserved for more people to experience it. 

Week three closed with preservation stations, where campers had the opportunity to help preserve the beauty of camp with sidewalk chalk and preserve the environment with posters explaining easy steps to help, like what goes in the trash, recycle, and compost bins. 

Week four was themed around Kehilla (Community and Interaction) and was designed to introduce new texts while also tying up the loose ends from past weeks. To begin week four, campers dove headfirst into the stories of Jacob’s life, exploring the different relationships with Isaac and Rebecca (his parents), Esau (his brother), Rachel and Leah (his wives), and other people. Campers discussed the basics of what makes a holy interaction and how to learn from all of Jacob’s relationships, both positive and negative. 

In our final week of shvil, some campers took the time to explore how we interact with nature by creating art and music using natural items in different spots around camp. Several of the options this week were brought back by popular demand, including team sports to consider how people interact in teams, extreme mind games to consider how logical thought affects how people experience the world, and trailblazing to explore human interactions with the natural world.  

At the end of the day, each and every shvil was a place for learning, growth, and experiencing Jewish values. Campers from a wide range of shvilim shared their experiences. Carson Apple shared that “Mind games was fun, we did sudoku, crosswords and were able to teach people new games! Asking for help was also a fun skill to practice!”.  Ethan Mordujovich spoke about their experiences in Nature Music and Mediation, explaining how “we explored the nature parts of Camp, meditated and chilled, and  got to explore the creek and the star. It was nice to find the quiet parts of camp.  Meditating for the first time was also fun!”  Since so many campers had the chance to trail blaze, many saw it as a focal point of their summer. Carson said “it’s fun to see how the trail progresses every day and it’s cool to see all the work add up!” and Jojo Davis adds that she enjoys trailblazing because “when we’re older, we’ll know we contributed to camp in a meaningful way”.  

As it turns out, the spot where sports and nature intersect is filled with Jewish learning, meaningful experiences, and lifelong friendships.