Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Yael Bendat-Appell, who has recently transitioned from being our full-time Assistant Director to a part-time, year-round role as the Camper Intake Coordinator. Yael’s new role will allow Camp Ramah in Wisconsin to better meet the needs of our campers and their families on an ongoing basis year-round as she will become the central address for conversations about the social, emotional, and mental well-being of our campers. We are thrilled to continue benefiting from Yael’s wisdom and hard work and wish her, her husband Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, and her children Adin and Orli a b’sha’ah tovah [in good time] on their soon-to-be expanding family!
The Physicality of Ritual
by Yael Bendat-Appell
After picking up our kids from school this past Wednesday afternoon, my family stood together at the edge of Lake Michigan to perform the Tashlich ritual. Holding bread crumbs in our hands, we gathered our thoughts about the “mistakes” that we had made this past year. We each shared one thought aloud before throwing the first of our crumbs. My seven year-old said: “I’m sorry for any lies that I told.” My three year-old said: “I’m sorry for being mean to my brother.” My husband and I exchanged glances and spoke about regrets of unnecessary raised voices and moments of loss of patience. We continued to “throw our sins away” for a few more minutes in silence, and we wrapped up the experience just as the seagulls started to swoop in for their takings.
For our seven and three year olds, the ten minutes spent as a family doing tashlich on the beach were more impactful and memorable than any conversation about the same topic could have been.
In fact, this whole season of the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, is full of rituals whose concrete physicality allows for moments of access and connection for both children and adults. The shofar with its haunting blasts, the crunch of the apples along with the sweetness (and stickiness!) of the honey, tashlich as part of the process of teshuva, culminating with the most physically concrete practice of all— building and inhabiting a sukkah for the eight days of Sukkot.
Jewish life brilliantly offers us these multi-sensory opportunities to learn, experience, connect and find meaning, in ways that surpass what is possible in a classroom environment. We are pushed outside of our cerebral, verbal and intellectual forces of habit to hear, feel, touch and smell the wisdom of our tradition with the hope that through these rituals, we will grow and change for the better.
Camp has such a strong force of impact on our campers for the same reason. The physical place and the physical experience of living there—the agam and its accompanying sunsets, the starry night sky, the sound of communal Kabbalat Shabbat davening, the feeling of walking across the kikar holding a friend’s hand—provide multiple points of access through which we feel, on some deeper level, changed.