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March 28, 2022 in Hazzan Asa Fradkin
This was the first Beth El Religious School retreat in two years, so it’s kind of a shame there aren’t too many pictures. (Shabbat)
And since we went two years with no getaway, we decided to pack in 3 grades at once!
The 4th/5th graders were in one residence at the end of the campgrounds (Capital Camps) with the 6th graders’ lodging situated along the path from the upper dorm to the dining hall.
Don’t worry, we had plenty of incredible professional staff and lay chaperones to help us manage the sea of adolescent and preadolescent humanity.
Before I tell you about some of the incredible discussions we had over the weekend, let me tell you about the reason I always go on these retreats.
Stay with me here. My mother always used to say that when she put me and my brother to bed, that was when we spilled the most about our thoughts, our feelings, our fears and life in general. She used to say that bedtime made us like little oysters, suddenly willing to crack open when we’d been locked shut for the day.
This is not to say that bedtime on the retreat is like your parents tucking you in. It’s more banging on doors and strongly requesting that lights go out and talking cease. That’s not the oyster time. The oyster time is the bus ride there, the meals together, Shabbat morning at 7:30 am when kids are getting ready, or right before Havdalah when we sat around the common area and just chatted because we had the time to open up.
As much as I enjoy the Sunday mornings at Beth El, the energy of being with 300 kids in the building and doing Shacharit with 60 kids, I can’t say that I know these kids all that well. And then we are given 36 hours to hang out with no screens present. 36 hours to make inside jokes. 36 hours to share real life challenges. 36 hours to talk seriously about what it means to be a young Jewish person and 36 hours to play hilarious games that create amazing bonding experiences.
From Friday to Sunday, I would say I got to know more about these 6th graders than I had known since I met them in 2017 as 2nd graders.
As I mentioned, we had some incredible programming over this Shabbat weekend.
The 6th graders discussed their fears, anxieties, personal identities, family pressures and other reactions related to the beginning of their b-mitzvah preparations. Tali Moscowitz deserves a ton of credit for putting these programs together and helping the staff succeed. I know that Tali and I are always amazed at the depth of expression and honesty that the kids share with us during these discussions.
At times, the adults would chime in or ask a follow up question and at times we would simply thank the kids for their willingness to share with everyone and to be themselves so bravely.
We also talked about experiences with discrimination based on gender, religious, or other identity and many kids shared difficult experiences they had had in school. Often, their peers would respond with words of encouragement and support. It’s remarkable how quickly a group of kids can turn into a family, especially when they are forced to interact with one another rather than their screens.
Like I said at the top, there are no pictures, except the excitement of the bus departure and the exhaustion of it’s arrival back at shul 😉
But I can picture the kids running up and down the hallways, blankets on their heads, wrestling each other. I can picture myself on the sofa with a kid making tea from hot water in the sink and joking that he has a new business idea. I can picture the entire 4th, 5th, and 6th grade huddled around blustery campfire singing Havdalah, with the flame as the candle, and I can picture all these kids standing on the bimah in two years beaming at us, knowing that we know them and we are a community.