HaMirpeset Shelanu 280: From Jonah Harris

Jonah Harris will be the Rosh Aidah for Sollelim this summer. Jonah is from Highland Park Illinois. This is his 18th summer in camp; spending 5 summers in Rishonim, 7 as a camper, and this will be his 6th summer on staff. Jonah graduated from Tufts University in 2015 and since then has been working as a structural engineer in Chicago. This fall he will begin a master’s degree program in structural engineering.

Reflections on Parashat Vayakhel/Pekudei
by Jonah Harris

“וַיֵּצְאוּ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִלִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה.”
Vayeitz’u kol-adat b’nei-yisrael milifnei moshe.
“So the whole community of [campers] left [their parents’] presence” –Exodus 35:20 (paraphrased by Jonah Harris).

Before the Israelites built the Mishkan, the sanctuary in which God’s presence will dwell, Moses brought the people together and told them that each person should contribute however they can, using their own skills and materials, to the construction of the Mishkan. When it came time to build the Mishkan, the community then went on their own, without their leader Moses, to build a holy space.

Thinking about parashat Vayakhel/ Pekudei, I could mention the importance of physical creations to sanctify a location and describe the beautiful works of art created by campers and staff that decorate our physical space at camp.  I could discuss how valuable it is for a child to exist in a community where he or she can contribute both to the external and internal community spaces. Rather than expound on these points, I want to focus on what the Israelites did right before they created the Mishkan, when they left their leader, Moses, the man who brought them to that glorious day in the desert and gave them the values that they would follow for millennia.

Before campers arrive at camp, they leave their homes and their families.  This is part of the magic of summer camp – we have to leave the familiar to truly thrive.  The metaphor of a plant pervades our language around this:  we uproot ourselves in one setting in order to grow in an unfamiliar one.

Just as the Israelites came together to build the Mishkan, each camper brings what she can to Ramah, each according to her abilities, knowledge, and skills. Camp has myriad outlets for each child to find a way to shine – in the arts, in sports, in swimming, reading Torah, and by being a “mensch.”

Without Moses, the Israelites needed leadership, and our parashah gives us Bezalel, who emerges as a skilled craftsman of many trades. The Israelites rely on him to lead the building process of the Mishkan, and he uses his divinely-inspired talents to enhance the Mishkan’s construction and design. At camp, our counselors channel Bezalel’s role to make their own magic, utilizing the different skills and passions they possess to develop relationships with campers.  Like Bezalel did, the construction and design of our camp community relies on our staff.  With the counselors’ help, the campers create an organic community that will last them a lifetime.

As a Rosh Aidah for the first time, I step into a new role this summer, inspiring and coordinating staff members in addition to campers. As I move up one step on the organizational hierarchy, I hope I can continue to channel the role of Bezalel on a different level: to help them come together to turn their respective relationships with individual campers and their cabin into one cohesive aidah – a taste of the mishkan in the Northwoods.

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