By Nadav Slovin
Before life gets back to normal, let’s re-envision normal.
In fear, we pause. You’ve been surprised before, right? Then you’ve experienced the momentary pause: the body stops breathing as the mind invests all of its effort into assessing and understanding the unexpected. This current extended moment of history in which we find ourselves has been a frightening and damaging one with immeasurable loss. And with sensitivity, we are beginning to breathe again.
Whenever we pause a space is created, an expanse that beckons to be filled, just as a forest floor is ripe for sprouting new growth following a fire. A new normal will be built – the question is, who will build it and what will it look like?
This summer, Lech Lecha, a nonprofit I founded facilitating transformative outdoor adventures, is beginning to answer these questions.
The decision to gather during these trying times has been a difficult one. We understand that many will choose to shelter in place and minimize human interaction as much as possible. This is an honorable decision that we fully support. We are simultaneously aware that many hold meaningful, educational, in-person experiences to be vital to their health and thriving as well that of our youth. As the world moves through this pandemic, communal and institutional adjustment to our modes of gathering is paramount. Our communities need us to develop and implement methods of communal interaction that minimize danger and maximize meaning.
At Lech Lecha we’ve creatively adapted our programming to the current reality, facilitating safe, socially-distanced, outdoor retreats for Jewish young professionals as well as week-long camp programs for teens in the vast fields and forests of Monroe County, PA (2 hrs from NY & Philly and 4 hrs from Boston & DC). We have thoroughly investigated a mode of gathering that minimizes risk using CDC Guidelines, PA State protocols, and the professional medical guidance we have enlisted. COVID-19 may have dragged us away from indoor spaces with large groups, but it has simultaneously invited us into the outdoors with small pods, a context rich for exploration as well as personal and communal growth.
What will we discover when we step back from the intricate structures of our typical social and communal settings into the simplicity of the forest? What creative, adventurous, spirited parts of ourselves will we reawaken through this process as we are guided into the woods, wanting nothing more than to step out of our homes and into life? What will we learn together from the tension between our burning desire to reconnect and the importance of maintaining social distance? Could intimate group settings prove to form stronger relationships and communities than the extensive networks we traverse a home?
The last few words of Exodus 31:17 are “and on the seventh day He ceased from work (shavat) and was refreshed (vayinafash).” Shavat shares the same root with Shabbat. Vayinahfash is from the root nefesh, soul. Take a break, pause, we are commanded. In doing so we will re-soul our souls. And that is what Lech Lecha aims to do.
Let’s re-energize our souls together this summer and envision a new normal.
Nadav is a passionate educator and learner. He has journeyed through thick forests, pungent farms, colorful spiritual paths, rich text and tradition, and diverse communities in search of meaningful encounters as well as personal and societal transformation.