PABLO CASALS, one of the world’s greatest cellists, was attributed as saying: “Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and Paris is the capital of France. When we will we also teach them what they are?”
It was with incredible surprise, delight and a huge dose of parental trepidation that my wife and I heard the announcement from our youngest daughter that she wanted to go on LJY-NETZER’s Machaneh Aviv (spring camp) – six days and five nights away from home.
Of course we were wonderfully supportive, nurturing and encouraging. I filled in the forms with a mix of pride, elation and a humongous scream brewing inside as I conjured up images of my daughter alone on her dorm bunk, inconsolable as she pleaded time and again: ‘Why didn’t they just say I was too young!?”
Although we had reports that she was homesick rather a lot on the first day and then a slightly diminishing amount each day, the returning daughter was focused purely on the incredible new friendships she had made, on showing us the friendship bracelets she had made and tales of edible skyscrapers, costume design for the escaping Israelites from Egypt and giant challah clothes, meditation and rousing prayer services, swimming everyday and sharing her goggles, saving water and being kind to animals.
The latter was part of the informal learning sessions around the theme of tzedek, tzedek tirdof – justice, justice shall you pursue. Having just quizzed my daughter, I have confirmed that the concept of justice is only beginning to form in her mind, but that she knows how it should be applied when I just confiscated the iPad until she did her school homework!
The Jewish Policy Research Unit (JPR) has provided the statistical evidence and my daughter’s experience is just one of the 115 anecdotes you can glean from those engaged with Machaneh Aviv this year. Participation with a Jewish youth movement is one of the key factors in the longevity and strength of Jewish identity through further life stages.
I was incredibly fortunate as a child that my parents, Rabbi Dr Andrew and Sharon Goldstein, ran our Movement’s summer camp – Kadimah Summer School. It was the precursor through various manifestations, to Machaneh Kadimah, run using the peer leadership model now almost universally accepted among such youth organisations.
Involvement with a Jewish youth movement does not guarantee you will end up as a rabbi and, obviously, it is not the only path. But Kadimah was a vital stimulus to current rabbis, Mark Goldsmith, Danny Rich, Pete Tobias and myself. The current UK ambassador to Israel and the editor of this newspaper are previous attendees.
Who could not have been inspired by the Punk Prophets and motivated by the Rockin’ Rabbis; enthused by reaching the Western Wall (situated in the host boarding-school’s dining room) or meeting Lord and Lady Rothschild strolling around the tennis courts?
We often read in these pages of the creative ties and collaborations between friends who met at Habonim. I am sure all Jewish youth movements have similar tales to tell. Almost without exception, every Jewish professional you meet will have had such an experience.
The time has to be right for our children to engage in such a way. My older daughter is reluctant to attend a youth camp and, even though our parents were running Kadimah for so many years, my sister really did not enjoy the experience each summer. It is not for everyone, but the benefits are undoubtedly huge.
If we accept the rabbinic maxim that our children are also our builders of the future and that the role of the youth movement is so vital to their Jewish identity, the serious question for synagogues is: why don’t you do more to engage our returning youngsters in the mainstream of community life? I am not suggesting my seven-year-old joins our Synagogue Council. But why not one of her number in their mid to late teens?
The children who are still humming the liturgical music from raucously uplifting prayer services are perhaps most likely to be asked to sing with the shul choir, maybe even teach them a song they picked up.
Is the cheder head teacher engaging these youth movement leaders in the cheder?
It was difficult to let our daughter go on Machaneh Aviv. Having got her and 30 young people back elated, inspired and wanting to go on everything LJY-NETZER offers, our synagogue’s challenge is to allow their zest for Judaism to infect our adult members.