I write to you from Camp George on beautiful Maple Lake, near Parry Sound. The ruach (camp spirit) is high as campers and staff are enjoying the first week of the summer and the extra sunshine that comes with it. Holy Blossom is well represented here.
According to one Talmudic passage (Kiddushin 29a), there are three things every Jewish parent is obligated to teach his and her child. First, teach your child Torah. Second, teach your child a trade. And a later generation added a third, teach you child to swim. All three mitzvot are pursued when parents choose to send their children to Camp George.
Torah is taught in creative, sometimes hidden ways at camp. The education team and the faculty of rabbis and Jewish educators package Jewish concepts in games and role-play, song and scavenger hunts. The many Israelis on staff, including Maya, who spent the year with us at Holy Blossom and the Leo Baeck school, also teach a knowledge and love of Israel through fun activities. For example, tomorrow will bring a simulated slice of Zionist history. A team of canoes, representing the Jewish refugees of 1947 onboard the Exodus, will try to make their hopeful journey across the lake to Palestine, only to be intercepted by the British.
Many “trades” are taught at camp. Anyone who was ever a summer camp counselor knows how many life skills are learned and honed at camp. Organization skills, effective communication, team-building, innovative thinking, and leadership are learned through some formal leadership training, but mostly through trial and error and good guidance from supervisors. Very few will become camp directors, of course, but every staff member will one day go on to his or her chosen career and be able to succeed, in part, because of the training received at camp.
“And some say: to swim.” Why does a later generation of Talmudic sages tack swimming onto the short list of educational obligations parents have to children? It goes beyond physical fitness and independence. It’s about survival. According to Maimonides parents may hire someone else to teach their children by proxy. (And in the case of teaching Torah, Maimonides insists that parents are required to hire a professional, even if the parents are themselves knowledgeable of Torah.) I’ve seen firsthand how the camp waterfront staff takes their obligations of teaching safety and survival very seriously.
Enjoy the long days of summer. I am. If you need proof,
just check me out on the zipline!
By Rabbi Yael Splansky