The Dedication of Those Who Volunteer: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Elana Rabishaw

There’s a unique magic that fills camp on “opening day.” The air seems crisper, and the dining hall, usually bustling, is buzzing with leaders preparing in anticipation. It’s a day when our teenagers transform into superheroes, ready to welcome the campers.

As I walked into the Minsky Art Center this morning, I witnessed our teens deep in their preparations. Some of our teens were mixing color into frosting, and others were painting signs, preparing to welcome the Camp Jenny campers. In just a few moments, they will put on their opening-day T-shirts, the final touch to their transformation into superheroes of the camp community.

Reflecting on my own experiences at camp, I’m transported back to the warmth of newfound friendships and the excitement of donning my own superhero cape. Little did I know then, that my time in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, would be the cornerstone of my journey, guiding me to the rabbinate and instilling within me deep gratitude for the magic of camp. I am so grateful to be at Camp Jenny this weekend to support our teenagers as they, God willing, have the same experience as leaders.

When I arrived at camp last night, one of our recent confirmands asked me if I was here to do “anything Jewish.” I smiled and shared that I was there to support and hang out with them. This simple conversation reminded me of the ultimate lesson I want to teach our teens, which is that everything we do together can be Jewish. Like the deep-rooted magic of camp, there’s an ineffable Jewish spirit that permeates every moment spent together. There is “something Jewish” about spending Shabbat together, even if it might not include candles, Kiddush, or challah.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behar, God speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai and instructs the Israelites to let the land observe Shabbat. The land must rest every seven years. The Israelites will fulfill the commandment of a sabbatical year by not sowing their vineyards or gathering the grapes from vines that are not trimmed. Malbim, a nineteenth-century commentator, explains that although Shabbat and this sabbatical year are different, they are both reminders that after six days of creating, the Holy One rested.

I am reminded of the sacred rhythm of rest and renewal that underpins both Shabbat and the sabbatical year. Just as the land is granted respite every seven years, so too are we called to pause, reflect, and rebuild within our own communities. As I observe the steadfast commitment of our long-time volunteers and the unwavering dedication of our teen leaders, I’m struck by the enduring sanctity found in both routine and rest, in the mundane and the holy.

In my short time at camp, I have noticed that I am among the few newcomers. Most of the adults have come to Camp Jenny for many years, and they all look forward to spending Memorial Day giving back, and this is an integral part of their routine. I learned that teenagers have a similarly high retention rate. As I was speaking to two of our college students, they both shared with me that they were teen leaders when Camp Jenny offered a virtual program and were eager to be in the cabin this year.

As we enter Shabbat, may we all be inspired by the example of our recent confirmand, whose dedication to service and community embodies the essence of a truly holy life. May her journey be one filled with steadfast friendships, deep-rooted Jewish values, and the abiding sense of sanctity that permeates every corner of her life. I pray that we all remember that celebrating Shabbat can exist anywhere, however we engage in community.

Shabbat Shalom.

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