Raise Your Flag

by Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow

In Bamidbar, last week’s Torah portion, we read:

“The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own flag, with the signs of their fathers’ households;
they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.”
Numbers 2:2

There they organized themselves around the central tent of meeting according to their households. Rashi, the classical 11th century commentator, explains that each had their own flag with its own unique color to distinguish it from other flag so that each person could recognize his or her flag.

Last week, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, with the support of the AVI CHAI Foundation, ran the 10th Cornerstone Fellowship. This brought a record 277 senior bunk staff from 51 camps to learn how to deepen Jewish programming at their camps this summer. And for the first time this year, Cornerstone fellows were eligible to receive college credit for their participation in the program, as part of a new course called ‘Experiential Education at Jewish Summer Camp’, which I am running with the help of Dr. Alvin Mars through the American Jewish University. Students will focus on the basics of envisioning and implementing programs for informal Jewish educational experiences at camp, while deepening their capacity for reflective practice, which will help professionalize the field of Jewish camping.

Looking around at our Cornerstone encampment this year, I could see a wide array of the colors of Jewish life in North America: Secular Zionists, Community camps, Hebrew language camps, Ramah, URJ, B’nai B’rith, as well as many others. Each brought their unique flavor (and camp SWAG!), and turned what they learned at Cornerstone into a detailed action plan for enriching the Jewish culture of their camp through unique methods. These include discovering your Jewish culture through food, exploring your personal narrative and relating it to your camp’s mission, reenacting an ancient text, and teaching campers the Cornerstone 2012 song about telling your Jewish story.

The diversity of camps learning and dreaming together spoke not only to their unique identities and passion for Jewish life, but also to our strength and success as a Jewish camping movement.

Another word for degel flag is nes, which in Hebrew also means “miracle.” As we begin the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), I realize that we can’t reduce our work to “The Numbers.” However, across 51 camps this summer, Cornerstone fellows will impact the lives of over 30,000 campers. Now that is a nes. The diverse cultures of Jewish life we see in these camps prove that we are not just surviving, but we are surely thriving. May we all raise our distinct flags alongside each other, finding ourselves in the tapestry of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow is the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.