Camp at the Aaron Family JCC is over for summer 2018, and as with all Jewish camps each summer, this was a summer for Jewish friends and Jewish memories.
At the J, not all of our campers and staff are Jewish but, as we say, “J camps are Jewish camps for children, not camps for Jewish children.” We create a Jewish experience that welcomes all, and together we live our Jewish journey whatever that may be. In speaking with one of my camp families, I was told that during the year, they are Catholic, but they love being Jewish for the summer.
This summer, our theme was “Summer of Kindness.” Kindness, or chesed in Hebrew, is a key Jewish value that is universal and can be understood and practiced by all. The word “practice” is important as we are always striving to find ways to be kind each day. Keep practicing, and it will become habit. Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others. The rest is commentary. Now go and study” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Hillel actually was giving us the minimum standard — simply do not do what is hateful. The next step must be to go further and do kind acts to all you encounter.
We practiced and learned in many ways this summer that you can be challenged to do as well. First, we created a “Kindness Bingo Bandana” for staff to carry and do with their campers. We do have some available if anyone is interested — contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Another activity was looking for kind quotes to live by. My favorite is, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
We put up posters, decorated T-shirts, wrote messages to soldiers, said thank you to our police officers and our maintenance workers and smiled at everyone. We practiced empathy through games and situations and, most important, we reminded ourselves to be grateful every day. The J also sponsored three organizations with donations from making blankets to donating shoes to food donations. Our kids learned by doing, and our hope is that they continue giving and doing kind acts throughout their lives.
The theme of chesed includes so many other Jewish values — respect/kavod, mercy/rachamim, acts of loving-kindness/gemilut chasadim, gratitude/hoda’ah and, of course, the giving of tzedakah, which is not charity or giving from the heart; rather, it is giving because it is the right thing to do to help others in need. Kindness is a basic value that gives our lives meaning.
What can you do today?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services for the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.