Finding God at Camp
Delivered at Temple Emanu-El on August 11, 2017
One of the foundational stories of my life happened in the summer after first grade. I was at a week long sleep away camp and the cabins we stayed in, at least as I remember them, were essentially made of a wooden base for the floor, four posts and a wooden roof. There were these flaps that hung on the east side and west side, or maybe the north and south sides. So this is the scene. It’s four to a cabin, so we each essentially have a different corner of the cabin. And this particular week the camp had been having some problems with raccoons. At the end of one of the nights of camp I laid down, and I said a prayer to God. I said, “Dear God, please put a bubble around my bed and keep the raccoons away. Amen.”
I woke up the next morning and my roomates’ stuff was all over the cabin, everything from under their beds was sprawled out in the middle of the cabin floor. And I have such a vivid memory of this because I am a very organized person, and it was the morning they were coming to check our cabin cleanliness! And I was just like, “You guys, WHAT HAPPENED!” And I kid you not, one of the girls turns to me and says, “Raccoons came into our cabin last night, and they licked all of our faces — except for yours. I watched it walk toward you, [and I swear these were her words], and it was like you had a bubble around your bed, and the raccoon stopped and turned away.”
And that was the first time I remember encountering God. As a seven-year-old at camp, I was convinced that God had heard and answered my prayer.
Since that day I’ve said lots of prayers to God. God doesn’t always answer them, or the answer isn’t always what I’m looking for, but I say them nonetheless. They comfort me; they make me feel connected to something bigger than myself and prayer gives me the time to reflect, to give gratitude, to ask for things, to say I’m sorry, and to work on myself and this world.
Sometimes I wonder if that overnight at camp was the way in which my official path to the rabbinate began. I’m not sure, but it was one of those moments that I think about all the time. Maybe not every day, but it’s with me and it was part shaping of who I am before you today. It’s been a journey, from the suburbs of Kansas City to Des Moines, Iowa, to the city of Kansas City, to Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Cincinnati, and now here in Atlanta. Throughout that journey, I gathered many more stories and moments that stick out in my life, moments that I look forward to sharing throughout my years here at Temple Emanu-
During school I gained a love for study — study of Torah, ethics, Hassidut, halakhah (Jewish law), liturgy, prayer, music, feminism in a Jewish context, Israel, and Hebrew. I gained a love for nurturing my spirituality and developing ways to nurture the spirituality of others, especially children. I found a purpose in connecting with other people and connecting them to one another. And I fell in love with Israel, her people, the land, and the State, an entity that is constantly on my mind.
As I join the Temple Emanu-El community, I am beyond excited to share these passions with all of you, to find new passions, and to grow as a person and a rabbi. In the months and years ahead I hope to build upon the foundations of Rabbi Colbert and the amazing momentum that Rabbi Spike and Cantor Adesnik have brought into this congregation. With a portfolio focus on youth, I am in the midst of a dreaming and application process for finding creative and meaningful ways to engage our littlest ones through college-outreach. With a focus on Israel, I am once again in the dreaming and application process for finding ways to integrate Israel into the very fabric of our congregation. And in all that I do, I seek to make each one of us feel connected, connected to this space, the people, and our historic tradition.
May our encounters in the mundane and the holy bring a sense of God and comfort into this world. May we work together to build upon the foundations of this congregation as we continue to be a community of thought-leaders, spiritual seekers, and engaged Jewish change-makers. On this Shabbat and always, may God hear our prayers and guide us on our journeys, may God spread over us a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace as we strive to bring goodness into this world, and may God blesses us with the strength it takes to do this holy work.