israel best of 4By Ruben Arquilevich, Executive Director, URJ Camp Newman

Yesterday morning, on April 19th, our son Max Arquilevich began his journey to Israel, joining fellow eighth graders from Brandeis Hillel Day School. Next Shabbat, he’ll have the opportunity to give his brother, Jonah, who is currently studying in Israel for four months with EIE (a life-transforming semester abroad), a big hug.  I cannot believe we have two of our three children in Israel over the next two weeks. (Meanwhile, our daughter has planned several dance parties in her brothers’ rooms and special time with mom and dad.) Earlier in March, my wife, daughter and father-in-law visited Israel and Jonah for eight days – it’s been our Israel year!

I have very sweet memories of my childhood vacations to the holy land. I can still see and feel the hugs and kisses on my cheeks from uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins. I still remember how they made me feel so special and welcomed.

Several years ago, I was blessed to be in Israel during Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). I was especially moved on Yom Hazikaron. All vehicles came to a halt; people got out of their cars (even on freeways) and stood in silence; those walking down the streets froze; total silence – less the sirens – signaling the moment. This year, Jonah and Max will join Israelis in this moment of silence on April 22nd, followed by an Independence Day celebration on April 23rd.

Kedoshim, a Torah portion commonly read in April/May and frequently coinciding with Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, focuses on interpersonal relationships. It addresses the notion of being righteous – what it means to be a mensch. At its heart, Kedoshim is about being holy – in our relationships with others. While there may not be one official definition for the word “holy,” there is a sense that it has to do with being distinct, unique, separate, G-d like.

Kedoshim also signals the final ramp up to our summer season. We will have the opportunity to create and live in holy communities, and like the teachings in Kedoshim, it begins and ends with how we treat each other: We begin by creating a staff family, comprised of our Israeli staff (Mishlachat) and North American staff. Like a family, amazing connections are created, resulting in lifelong friendships and even love, not to mention a few marriages!

We work towards a common goal of creating a holy environment, by treating each and every person as holy, as unique, shining a light on their story and gifts. It is the sharing and celebrating of our stories, ruach and heart that create sacred space for the children, staff, faculty and guests who pass through our gates.

Camp itself is a holy place because of these relationships and because of the way we can control time. Like Yom Hazikaron, we have “sirens” that help us mark and celebrate Jewish life – blessings, Jewish values, Hebrew, ritual, Torah, Shabbat and more. These sirens help us to live Judaism and its values 24/7 and in doing so, help us to create holiness.

At some point every summer I ask our staff and campers to look around and peer into each others’ faces. I ask them to envision that many of these faces will by their side for life journeys, for the simchas and the hardships; that these faces will be part of their lives forever.

Soon, we’ll have the opportunity to welcome all our campers and staff and give them the same warmth that I experienced as a child arriving in Israel decades ago.

One of our Jewish values is betzelem Elohim – the idea that we are all created in a divine image – that we all have unique gifts to bear – and that our work this summer is to bring out the best in ourselves, each other and the campers – in essence, making that unique gift glow. Rabbi Nachman of Braslav used to say: “Seek the good, reveal it, and bring it forth.” I would like to add: “Seek the good in every person, reveal it, bring it forth, and celebrate it”.

I cannot imagine a better opportunity to create such holy communities as we do in our Camps.

Shavua Tov (May you have a good week),


p.s. I plan to stand in silence, with Israel, on April 22nd in honor of Yom Hazikaron.