Rabbi Greene's Insights from Camp: Out of the Mud

We paddled up to the first camp site after two encounters with the pouring rain.  It was mud, sheer mud, deep, squishy, lose-your-shoes-in-it mud.  The path to pull the canoes up was steep.  The campers, staff and I were cold.  But, together the group pulled the canoes up the slope, held onto their shoes, got enough mud off and went to put on try clothes, set up tents and make dinner and a campfire.  And so we moved into the first evening of Moshava’s first canoe tiyul (trip).

This was not my first Mosh canoe trip – I think it’s my fourth – and with time I’ve come to learn the general flow of what happens. But, that doesn’t mean that the trips are predictable.  Hardly.  We can’t predict weather or wildlife.  And, on the people side, I never know which campers will jump up to and lift heavy canoe after canoe, and which ones will stand and watch.  Or which campers will quietly sidle over to the picnic table and ask to help make dinner and which are going to have profound moments of self-awareness or radical amazement in nature.  Which will be thrilled to learn camping skills, and which will learn that they can sleep on the ground and be a bit dirty.

This trip was no exception.  Thirteen- and fourteen-year olds who had never lifted a paddle learned to use it and propel themselves miles down Wisconsin’s Black River.  Campers met and paddled together who had probably never spent time together.  Kids who at home may not look up from screens much looked up and saw bald eagles soaring in the sky.  One shared a powerful reading about the difference between a traveler and a tourist.  All learned a blessing for seeing wonders of nature and joined in with Shema each evening with a unified sense of community.  Nearly all ate the delicious vegetarian meals they likely would not have eaten at home (Parents: take note.) and learned to set up tents and make campfires. 

Perhaps the best lesson of the tiyul to my teaching eye was one pointed out by one of the counselors.  He commented how much he liked watching the campers when they ended up a little stuck at the side of the river or in some branches or sand.  Why?  No, not for general amusement value.  Rather because the teens – the very same young teens we are still nudging to put on dry clothes and wear their shoes at the campsite – had to work together and problem-solve to get back on course.  I don’t know that our entering 8th- and 9th-graders would recognize that insight as profound, but maybe they didn’t need to – they just needed to live it – to communicate and work together to figure out what to do.

For me it was commentary of perspective-giving insight for sure.  The insight reminded me of the midrash I shared with our campers that first night of the trip.  The midrash talks about the exodus from Egypt -- that the Israelites were too busy looking down at the mud.  They did not look up and notice the miracle of the sea splitting that surrounded them.  We did walk through a lot of mud on this canoe trip, but the miracles were there before us too – some we saw, and some so basic that we nearly missed them.