This is a weekend of transitions here in Zionsville. We have culminated our various programs…including Chug Presentations last evening, all-camp shiur wrap-up this morning, and awarding the first ever Koufax Cup and Greenberg Cup to our Shoresh and Geza sports champions this afternoon. Tonight we celebrate Shabbat together for the final time in Kallah Alef, and begin to say goodbye to our campers before they head home on Sunday. And of course, on Tuesday we begin all over again.
This week’s parashah is also a transition point, in more than one way. Parashat Matot-Masei is the last Torah portion in the Book of Numbers, and thus serves as a transition into Deuteronomy, the final book of the Torah. The story in Matot-Masei also tells of a transition. The Israelites are ready to end their wandering in the wilderness, and begin to make plans for entering Canaan. As they do so, the leaders of the Tribes of Reuben and Gad approach Moses with a request. They own cattle; and because the land they have just conquered to the east of the Jordan River is prime cattle country, they would like to remain there and not enter the Promised Land.
Moses reprimands these tribes saying, “Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?” The leaders respond with the promise that they will, indeed, help conquer Canaan, and will even go in the first wave…right after they build sheepfolds for their flocks and towns for their children. It never fails to catch my eye that they mention taking care of the flocks first, and then the children. As a matter of fact, when Moses accepts their offer, he tries to set them straight by reversing the order, “Build towns for your children and sheepfolds for your flocks, but do what you have promised.”
The message is simple enough…take care of your children before all else. It’s a message that resonates with us here at camp, as I know it does with you, the parents. There are many different parts to the mission of Goldman Union Camp: summer fun, Jewish education, creating and enhancing friendships, the development of personal Jewish identity as well as a unique Jewish community. But no part of our mission comes before this – take care of your children.
This week we were forced to do so in dramatic fashion. The lightning strike out of the blue last Shabbat afternoon that injured three of our campers put our community to the test in every possible way. I am so proud that everyone – from the first-responders (counselors and senior staff), to our Faculty, to our office staff who handled your calls, to the senior leadership of the URJ who immediately boarded planes to come lend a hand – everyone instinctively followed the same mission, “Take care of our children”.
Lives were saved this week. And all of our staff, including those first-responders, continued throughout the week to care for the emotional well-being of our campers even as we continued with our regular programming. As a result, our session is now drawing to a close, marked not by a bolt from the blue, but by the smiles and laughs of hundreds of children that had the time of their lives.
I have so much this week for which I am thankful. I am grateful for the guidance and support of the Union for Reform Judaism. I am grateful for the hundreds of emails and phone messages of love and compassion from parents, alumni, members of the camp community, and members of the international Jewish community. I am grateful for our on-camp faculty, as well as for the clergy throughout the region, who have lent a hand, and an ear, to our staff. I am grateful for all who have made gestures this week to help our staff decompress and regain their bearings.
But as I begin to think of my blessings on this Shabbat, I know that I am most thankful for the staff members themselves. I have the blessing of working with an incredible, skilled, compassionate, and confident group of young men and women who are completely committed to their mission and to the lesson of this week’s Torah reading – Take Care of Our Children. I am filled with admiration and respect for all of them; and I am proud that when we send children home on Sunday, they will have been cared for by the best.
May we all continue to go from Strength to Strength.
Rabbi Mark Covitz
Director; Goldman Union Camp Institute