This week, our Torah offers us a double portion— literally, with two parshiyot assigned for this Shabbat. Acharei-Mot, hyphen, Kedoshim.
Acharei Mot— after a death… hyphen — Kedoshim–comes holiness.
It’s a nice set up.
If we stay on top of the surface, and don’t dive too deep, that would be a nice straight line through Torah.
My experience tells me that to stay on the surface, to take it at face value, is to be missing a crucial point- which is that hyphen.
On this Shabbat, I’m thinking that the message might be that we are, in this moment, living in the hyphen: the space between these two stories.
That hyphen is the liminal space itself— punctuation’s version of the midbar: the wilderness in which we find ourselves.
I have heard from many of you, and experienced for myself, that this past week was a hard one— 7 weeks in, a full Omer’s worth of time, and we’re still not at Sinai.
As the novelty wears off, as time lingers and shapeshifts, and still, we find ourselves without answers, I, like many of you, found this past week particularly challenging.
Some of us have suffered material loss in the weeks gone by: the death of loved ones, the loss of employment.
Others— most of us, I would imagine, have steeled ourselves against the myriad blows to our routine: we’ve brought our work home, upped our internet bandwidth, built desks in corners of our bedrooms, we’ve started wearing masks, keeping our distance from neighbors, visiting grandchildren through screens.
We’ve braced ourselves as news of closures and cancellations have changed our plans from March, to April, and now- in May. Like most of us- I have held out hope for summer bringing a bit of relief from this new reality: hoping against hope for the opportunity to celebrate a full Berkshire summer.
For me, my breaking point came yesterday, with news that I knew would likely come, as the URJ announced the suspension of all in-person summer experiences. For the first time ever, this summer will see no campers bounding through the gates of the 14 movement sleepaway camps ready to settle into their home away from home, no groups of excited teenagers boarding planes for NFTY in Israel.
It was a heartwrenching decision, evident in the tears welling up in the eyes of our two local URJ camp directors, James Gelsey and Senior Director Debby Shriber, as they shared this news with faculty, and again, with parents last night. Our camp directors and the Youth Professionals take nothing more seroiusly than their commitment to keeping our children healthy and safe, and this was the safest, most responsible, most loving choice.
And yet… even knowing it’s the right choice, so many parents, myself included, had held out hope that there might be a way, to let our children be children this summer, to have camp- to have friends, and kickball, and Shabbat and song session, and kickball and swimming and bug juice. .
Of all the cancellations and closures, I have personally experienced, this was by far the most heartbreaking.
This is a loss, for our campers, parents, camp staff, indeed- for the entire Reform movement… It’s a loss for our local Berkshire community, and the small businesses who are bolstered by the summer season.
For those who aren’t camp people, there’s a familiar saying— “we live ten for 2”—meaning, we wait ten months of the year, just for those 2 incredible months of summer at camp. This new reality has left many of us feeling like there’s nothing left to look forward to, now.
Last night, Debby Shriber, Senior Director of the NE Camps published an incredible resource on reformjudaism.org on how to talk to your kids about canceled summer plans.
In reading it, I was struck by how much wisdom there was in it for all of us— not just parents and kids thinking about cancelled summer plans. Each of us have been called on to grapple with hard realities that come with the losses that this experience has brought— For me, camp has always been a place of learning and self-discovery. So it should come as no surprise that it was a camp director who could remind me now, that to get through these disappointments and these losses, each of us,— at different stages, will need to find a different way through the wilderness.
Debby wrote in her piece last night, that in sharing news of cancelled summer plans, we should look to the age and stage of the child, and proceed accordingly:
For elementary school-aged children, she writes, “be the director”. You need a plan of what to say and how to say it. Anticipate what questions your children might have and what responses you might give.
For middle school-aged children, be the tour guide: You need to lead but can also change course, depending on your child’s response and tolerance for the conversation.
For high school-aged children, be the torch-passer: More is less with this age, so share the information and then pass the torch to your children to let them lead the conversation while you listen.
I think this is wisdom for all of us, no matter the loss we are grappling with:
Some of us will need to be the directors for others—guiding them with clear and honest information.Others will need our friends and family to act as a tour guide, following our lead through the experience of acknowledging our losses, and making our way to the other side. And still, for others—this will be an experience of letting go: of being the torch passer who helps others lead the way for themselves.
After loss— hyphen—holiness.
And we’re not quite there yet.
Right now, this Shabbat— we’re living in the hyphen.
As the news spread from the URJ to congregational partners, campers, parents, staff, and alumni—many were quick to react, questions at the ready: what about summer 2021? What about letting small groups of campers and staff come up for short weekend experiences? What if, what if what if?
In all those questions, I heard people who just wanted out of the hyphen— to go from this loss, and to look for holiness— to find the other side.
And with wisdom, and care— those of us who are feeling the impact of these summertime losses, we know that the answer is that we just don’t know yet: there isn’t yet something we can say about what will be.
My friend Rabbi Jennifer Gubitz reminded me of one final teaching:
The order of our parshiyot
our Torah portions,
There is Holiness.
and then –
On this Shabbat, I’m living in the hyphen, and I am going to just rest here, for a little while longer, knowing that there is great wisdom and hope to carry me through, to new iterations of holiness, with new words of hope and wisdom to speak, eventually.