By Avi Orlow
Recently I had the honor of speaking at a dinner at the Foundation for Jewish Camp‘s Leaders Assembly 2018 in Baltimore. It was a wonderful conference. Unfortunately the sound was not really working during my speech so well so I figured that I would post the speech.
With Passover soon at hand I wanted to share with you a special story about leaving Egypt, but not the one from our Seder tables.
In sixth century BCE, when building the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a man named Nicanor set out to attain a special gate for one of the doorways of the Temple. We learn in the Gemara in Yoma:
Nicanor went to Alexandria in Egypt to bring the doors, on his return a huge wave threatened to engulf the boat. To save themselves the ship’s crew took one of the precious doors and cast it into the sea, but still the sea continued to rage tossing the boat around. When the crew prepared to cast the other door into the sea, Nicanor rose and clung to it, saying, ‘Cast me in with it.’ The sea immediately became calm. He was, however, deeply grieved about the other door [lost to the sea]- mitzta’er al haverta- literally- he was saddened about its friend. As they reached the harbor of Akko, the door broke through and appeared from under the sides of the boat. [Yoma 38a]
Nicanor teaches us the lessons of grit and determination, selflessness and reward. Just like my mama told me, ‘The harder you work the luckier you get’. Nicanor was willing to give of himself because for him “Good enough was simply not good enough”. He really wanted these special doors to be in the Temple.
Often when we think about the utility of a gate we think about who it is keeping in or keeping out. That was not the case for Nicanor. He went back to Egypt — a place of our bondage –for a gate that would adorn the experience of coming and going at the holiest communal space. Like our camps, these doors would house much more than simply people, but holy memories and experiences that form our personal and national identity.
Tonight we come together as a community to celebrate the people who, like Nicanor, really have given of themselves and inspire us with their grit and determination. Camp professionals sacrifice sleep, personal resources and free time in order to go above and beyond in the pursuit of providing meaningful Jewish experiences that shape people’s lives. The Jewish knowledge and experiences we gain at camp give us access.
Jewish camp is a gateway.
Jewish camp is a gateway to make friends for life.
Jewish camp is a gateway to learn valuable skills for our future careers.
Jewish camp is a gateway to get the building blocks for making a Jewish family.
Jewish camp is a gateway to belong to a Jewish community.
Tonight we celebrate just a few of these extraordinary professionals whose hard work and dedication to excellence deserve recognition. Mitzta’er al haverta – We would be at a loss without you friends. First, we will acknowledge some monumental milestones in our field. These are the people who have made the long journey. We are blessed in this room to have people who have been working with generations of campers and staff members, impacting entire communities.
Next, FJC, with the support of Avi Chai Foundation, is proud to recognize three early career Jewish camp educators. Though closer to the start of the journey, these professionals have already inspired their camps with their creativity and commitment to opening up Jewish life to the next generation. Each will get a generous investment of $3600 to be used for continued education to support them in their journey.
And then Genesis Philanthropy Group will recognize one camp that has made great strides in accessibility for Russian Speaking Jews in our community and the iCenter will recognize two camps which have gone above and beyond to reimagine Israel education.
Tonight we express Hakarat HaTov– gratitude- to people who have clung to the gate to ensure that Jewish Life is accessible to our community. Each of our honorees shows us that the harder you work the luckier we all get. Their efforts have ensured that more campers, staff members, and their families pass through our gates and connect to the majestic experience of Jewish camp. They are inspirational.
I also want to take a moment to express my Hakarat HaTov– gratitude to Julie Finkelstein and the rest of the FJC team who have really clung to this Leaders’ Assembly to make it everything thing it is. We all appreciate your self-sacrifice for excellence. And I can see the second gate coming out of the water now.
Cross-posted from Said to Myself