One of my favorite parts of Torah to teach is the construction of the mishkan, the sacred gathering space the Israelites built in the wilderness to worship God. Once the construction of the mishkan was complete, we read in Exodus 40:54 “The presence of God filled the tabernacle.” When I taught this text in 4th grade I always opened the lesson by asking the students to close their eyes and imagine themselves at a place that felt sacred or holy to them. With my eyes closed I always pictured myself sitting on a bench watching the sunset over Lake Buckatabon at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. For that moment in my PJA classroom I could feel that breeze, see that lake, and once again hear the words of Lecha Dodi as we welcomed the Shabbat Queen into camp.
When students were invited to share their sacred spaces, many of them shared lakes, trees, oceans, and mountains in the Pacific Northwest, and some,like me, talked about their Jewish summer camps. By the end of our unit of study all of us agreed that sacred space was not only about physical space, but also about the kehilah, the community. Each year, by the end of our unit of study, all of us agreed that anywhere our PJA community came together in prayer, became a sacred space, a mishkan.
But still there is something about Shabbat at camp that feels different than anything else; for so many of us there is just nothing more sacred than celebrating Shabbat at camp.
This past weekend 32 PJA families spent Shabbat together at Camp Solomon Schechter. As we gathered together at the Schechter amphitheater overlooking beautiful Lake Stampfer that old camp feeling entered my body and soul. As I welcomed everyone and wished them a Shabbat Shalom I realized at that moment that so much of what I consider sacred was happening all at the same time. We were celebrating Shabbat, in the great outdoors of the Pacifc Northwest, surrounded by our PJA community, at Jewish summer camp. I invited everyone to take a minute to breathe in the space, to soak in the holiness of the moment. And then we lifted our voices in song, and welcomed in the Shabbat Queen by singing Lecha Dodi. This past Shabbat PJA family camp at Camp Solomon Schechter was a sacred gathering for our community, as families forged connections with each other, and we all took many moments to enjoy and appreciate the sacred space and community we shared. This past Shabbat we found our mishkan.
I want to thank Sarah Glass, the family camp committee, and the staff at Camp Solomon Schechter for all of their hard work in creating this opportunity for sacred gathering and community building. If you missed this year’s family camp you will have an opportunity to join us next year at BB Camp. As we move into our high holiday season I wish for all of us to find as many sacred moments and sacred places as we can find. Ask anyone who has ever been a fourth grader at PJA and they will tell you, together we can build a mishkan.