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It is not every day I get to study Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, a major American Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist and modern Jewish philosopher. Rabbi Esther Lederman shared his teaching several months back on a pasuk in the Torah, set during the time the Israelites trekked through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land:
“The Eternal spoke to Moses saying: ‘Make thee two trumpets of silver; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the congregation (edah) and cause the camps (machanot) to set forward.” [Bamidbar 10:1-2]
Rabbi Soloveitchik gathered from this passage, which is also examined in this article from the Jewish Press by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, that there are two ways in which people become a group, a community, a society, or a nation. The first is a “machaneh” (translated by Solovetchik as a ‘camp’) that is formed when people band together out of a desire for mutual protection and survival; while the second is created when people join in an “edah” (congregation), sharing a vision and striving to do together what they cannot achieve alone.
A few weeks ago, I joined young adults in the Olim Fellowship for their retreat in New York City. Olim is a two-year program that brings first and second year camp staff from five URJ camps to learn from each other, from camp leadership, and from top-notch influential educators in fields of social justice, Jewish education and the camping world through three kallot across the U.S. We gathered at the 9/11 Memorial to listen to an Imam, a Rabbi, and a survivor of a suicide bombing in Israel speak about the need for interfaith understanding and the importance of valuing every human life. The room was filled with the 75 college-aged fellows who are learning to promulgate these lessons to the thousands of young people who will be in our camps this summer.
Seeing the Olim fellows at their retreat made me consider: what role do we play as Jewish youth professionals in creating an intentional edah, or community?
There are those of us who are passionate about Jewish camp, youth group, NFTY or Israel and Mitzvah Corps programs because they form a kind of Jewish bubble. We crave the safety, the friendship and like-mindedness, and yearn to “come back home” to a familiar place. It is a unique feeling that we take pride in, but our true purpose goes beyond that. Our youth programs intentionally create communities that are built on a shared vision and aspiration of creating a world that is more just, whole and compassionate. We do that by developing essential skills – empathy, collaboration, critical thinking and more – that support our youth to be successful today and in the future all based in Judaism.
The Olim Fellowship is just one example of how we bring together individuals, provide skills, knowledge and community with the intention of making our world a better place. Perhaps it takes gathering in a machaneh as a first step, and thriving together to make a difference as an edah is the second.
Our teens and young adults understand the importance of building true community. As we enter Passover this year, think about the community at your table and around you and consider the ways you can involve and support your youth in issues they care about.
A Zissen Pesach
Learn more about the Olim Fellowship in blogposts from our second-year fellows and their impact on community: