Maybe Someday

It’s 10:15 AM and I am kneeling on the dusty ground clearing blood off a cut on a 12 year old boy’s leg. I’m wearing a bright pink shirt that reads “Senior Staff” on the back, cut off jean shorts, a name tag and a tie-dyed tallit that is long enough that as I kneel it brushes the ground. I’m using a tissue and a water bottle and a band-aid and a little bit of love to solve a small problem.

It’s about an hour before I am going to read Torah for the first time.

This is where my Judaism lives. In hectic moments and in reassuring words. In a sanctuary, outside, filled with rocks and benches and canopies of trees and cloth and people who all know my name. In weird dance moves during prayers and in silent applause. In the sincere joy in song and the sincere silliness in hand motions. In prayer, of course, but in community too.

I am a unit head for 62 kids, aged 11 and 12, who have spent this summer creating a community within our unit that makes the hard days worth it. Boys and girls who have waited months and years and counted down days. Campers who have called this place home- some, like me, for the first time this summer- others for years and years. I’ve spent this summer watching them grow and learn and create bonds with each other that I can’t help but feel proud of. I have seen their counselors inspire them to grow in new and exciting and different ways. They learned to speak about issues, create friendships, try activities they’ve never tried. To be brave in the choices and their decisions and their actions.

And with their bravery, they inspired me to try something new and scary too.

When I was 12 I went to Hebrew school twice a week in a temple in suburban Maryland about 20 minutes away from my home. I loved the class and the kids and the things I was learning, but the language- the Hebrew- never seemed to stick. It was frustrating and upsetting and it made me feel like a bat mitzvah was something that I could never accomplish. So a date was never set and a portion was never picked and I moved on, with the idea of reading Torah somewhere in back of my head under the nebulous realm of “maybe someday.”

“Maybe someday” came this weekend. It fell on a Saturday morning where there were more than a hundred extra people in camp and my unit—those 62 crazy kids and the 30ish staff members—was leading the entire camp in prayer. My campers and staff had been working all week. Preparing readings about prayers and choosing and practicing songs that fit our theme. I was proud of them. And I am so grateful I was able to do something that meant that they could also be a little bit proud of me.
I spent three days learning my portion and three days silently (and, if we are being honest, not so silently) freaking out about reading. I spent the morning of the service with my campers and staff. Eating bagels in the chader ochel, dancing during songs, laughing at the weirdness of camp. I spent the morning of the service feeling excited and more than a little scared.

I don’t remember much about actually reading Torah. I remember walking up, kind of shaking, and squeezing the hand of one of my staff members who was going to read after me. I remember holding the yad (pointer) in my hand and thinking about how the weight of it felt lighter than I expected. I remember looking up and seeing one of my campers—one who has been here for the entire summer—flashing me a double thumbs up. I remember consciously thinking that I couldn’t let the weakness in my knees manifest as weakness in my voice. I remember seeking out faces- my campers, my staff, my father who had come up to camp for the morning. I remember the words that I read.

We are (as always!) at an interesting place in the cycle of Torah readings.  We read of Moses and his farewell.  Of idols. Of gods that people used to believe in.  The Torah is a book of stories and of lessons and of history.  It is the record of our people’s past, which we use to create the blueprint for our future. That’s why it felt right to be somewhere so new- a camp I’m still learning and discovering—and creating a connection with it and with the people there using something so old—a torah scroll, which I was reading from for the first time.

It’s 11 AM. I’m reading, loudly, strongly, words I’ve almost got memorized. My knees are only shaking a little, but my heart is so full it feels like it could burst. 

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  1. So proud of you for finally doing this… I hope it meant everything to you that you always wanted it to do -- from the sound of it, it did!