Summer harvest: On the joy we need
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy
Many of us have been waiting for summer to start for a long time. But, when does summer start? Technically June 20th is the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but that does not seem to capture it. We look forward to the summer as time to congregate and mingle outdoors after being isolated all winter. However, we have been shut-in for a lot longer than one season, and thirst for a world of human connection post-pandemic. When will summer begin?
For some it was finishing that last test or final in school. With this, we get to close the books on that wacky zoomed-out academic year of 2020-2021. For others it is packing for camp. Ah- the joy of putting nametags on clothing that might never return home. Personally, for many years of my life, summer began when I saw the little red schoolhouse on the way up to camp. For many campers and staff members, summer does not really start until they get off that bus or get out of their car and find themselves running across a field to embrace that friend they have not seen in 11 (or in this case 22 or 23) months.
Still there is an argument that summer does not really start until that first Shabbat at camp. Everyone shows up as their best and cleanest self. We feel special and unique and lose ourselves in a sea of Shabbat whites. Amidst this calm, we take a moment to take a picture with people we love or pause to smell the fragrance of freshly cut grass. Or maybe it is Shabbat services by a lake or in the woods. And who can deny the inviting waft of chicken soup as we enter the dining hall.
Each of these moments are surely special, worthy of note, and are reasonable markers for the start of summer. And still, not the experience I have been yearning for. For me, this summer will start when the camp comes together after the first Shabbat dinner to sing Shir HaMaalot (Psalm 126) before Birkat HaMazon, grace after the meal. Weaving their voices together in devotion as one sacred community, blurring of time and space. In this, the community will step beyond the two dimensional world of zoom and into a joyful, uplifting celebration of multidimensional connection to one another, to Jewish tradition, to holiness.
Pausing to reflect on the words, we hear a spectacular expression of gratitude in Shir HaMaalot:
Hazorim B’dima Yiktzoru B’rinah- They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Though he goes along weeping, carrying the seed-bag, he shall come back with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves. (Psalm 126)
While our experiences of events have varied greatly, over the last 16 months we have all been dealing with a lot. We have had to contend with the health, safety, and social impact of this global pandemic. We have been confronted with the harsh realities of systemic racism and violence. We have been enmeshed in a painful domestic political process. Recently we had a war between Gaza and Israel. And we have endured a huge spike in antisemitism. What else did they pack with them in their bags?
Over the last 16 months, we have sowed many seeds in tears of sadness, disappointment, frustration, and anxiety. We have pushed off or canceled many social engagements. Can you imagine the joy of a group of young Jewish people safe, secure, and away from their parents’ homes singing together in community? 16 months of tears and 22 or 23 months of yearning transformed into unlimited joy. This moment will mark a transition from sorrow to joy, from scarcity to abundance, and from the long long winter of COVID to the summer of what will be next. We will reap joy from the fertile ground of our understanding of sadness. The things we took for granted now are a source of profound happiness. It will be a moment when we can bask in the simple pleasure of each other’s presence and the community can reflect on the power of being together IRL. It is not that after this moment we will no longer have any medical, natural, political, or social problems, but this will close one difficult season and open us to another. For me this experience of the communal singing of Shir HaMaalot will lift us up because it is that song of joy. This summer we will harvest the joy that we so desperately need.
And just like that, summer will begin.
Rabbi Avi Orlow is vice president, innovation and design, at Foundation for Jewish Camp.
For a window into the joy that this summer brings, follow your local camps and Foundation for Jewish Camp (@JewishCamp) on social media.