Yesterday we gathered in the Chapel so that I could talk to the Camp about what happened to the Torah scrolls as a result of some water hijinks. I had about ten minutes to speak and so chose to first contextualize what a synagogue was, what Beth Elohim does for the community of its members as well as the broader neighborhood. And then I talked about all the different holy books in all the different traditions so that I could put a Sefer Torah into a context, since I knew alot of kids would be hearing about a Torah Scroll for the first time.
That seemed to work pretty well. I then described what happened and put the accident into two contexts. One, that kids being kids, dumb things will happen without always thinking about consequences and that part of growing up is about recognizing that when we do things, sometimes without intent, bad stuff can happen. And though it's a hot summer and water is fun, overflowing a sink in an old building can bring about disastrous results that damage something very, very special to others. The room felt the heaviness of the message. (I was prepared with some fairly grim stories about Torah scrolls in concentration camps, torture during the Middle Ages, and Roman persecution during the first century but opted out of traumatizing the the little devils.)
I then also talked about our old buildings and how even the adults in the community need to be thinking responsibly of taking care of our holy objects in case pranks lead to unanticipated destruction--the lesson being that all of us are responsible for one another.
That seemed to be enough. I then pulled out another Torah Scroll, unrolled it, and invited all the kids in the camp to come see it and you know what? Each and every one of them did. It was a great moment. The genuineness to their intent; the devotion to what they were experiencing was inspiring to see. The Jewish kids proudly declared their Jewishness. Several kids made the point of telling me, "I'm half-Jewish, rabbi!" which I always answer with, "Wonderful! Which half?" That generally gets us talking about identity in a creative and positive way.
Anyway, I felt good about the encounter. Like kids really learned something, no one got shamed for the accident, and in the end, they came face to face with the Torah, an enriching experience in its own right.
Later in the afternoon I watched the camp-wide concert take place. A couple hundred kids from all walks of life--all colors, all faiths, singing songs that united them as a community. I thought of the power of this taking place in the synagogue, of our spiritual home being a place for those who seek community and felt that the source of inspiration was the very book which had laid itself down for the values to be lived. If some of those kids didn't know that before, now some did. And that's a step in the right direction. It doesn't reverse the damage. But it gets us back on the path.
וכל נתיבותיה שלום
And all its paths are peace