Responding to Heartbreak

Our Jewish community has certainly experienced more than our fair share of hardship over the past few weeks. The mass shooting at Shabbat services in Pittsburgh, the ADL data quantifying the rise in anti-Semitism, and the violent clashes along the Israel/Gaza border all weigh heavily on our minds and in our hearts.  Now, our grief is compounded by the incomprehensible losses suffered by three Malibu, California Jewish camps – Hess Kramer, Gindling Hilltop, and JCA Shalom – due to the Woolsey Fire.

How do we move forward as individuals and as a community in the midst of so much ongoing devastation?

I find inspiration from the words expressed by Rabbi David Eshel of Wilshire Boulevard Temple at this week’s solidarity Havdalah service: “We remember God spoke to Moses through the burning bush to inspire our people to freedom. God led us through the wilderness with a pillar of fire. This flame will not destroy … rather this flame will light our way to a bright, bright future.”

The burning bush is a potent symbol for our Jewish experience. The Jewish people – like the burning bush – miraculously persevere in the most seemingly destructive of circumstances. We are not consumed.  We stubbornly refuse to capitulate to hopelessness and despair.  What could be more fitting than the fact that one of the most striking and widely-shared images of the destruction in California features a giant menorah on a hill above Camp Hess Kramer, standing in proud defiance against the scorched landscape?

Our camp community has suffered great losses. Yet, just as the menorah remains, we can find inspiration in the resilience and unity modeled by the people of Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and around the world. We will overcome adversity as we always have: by coming together to support one another.

Only a short year ago, when fires destroyed URJ Camp Newman, we came together – just as we do now – to offer solidarity, love, and support.  We know how to do this. The skills nurtured and nourished at camp prepare us to bravely overcome and adapt to any challenge, no matter how great.  FJC will continue to provide support and expertise to assist our California camp community throughout the long road ahead.  I have no doubt these camps will rise above this hardship – as will the entire Jewish community.

As we approach Thanksgiving and Chanukah (our celebrations of gratitude and light), I express the gratitude I feel for our Jewish camp community – campers, staff, families, alumni, donors, volunteers, and other supporters – and for the light you bring into this world. Just like the burning bush and the menorah on that hilltop, no matter what, we endure. And no matter what, we thrive.

As Rabbi Bill Kaplan, Executive Director of the Shalom Institute, so eloquently reflected: “Many years ago, there was a fire that blackened the hillside above the Leo Carrillo Campground down the road from us on Mulholland Highway. A year later after the rains, the hillside was blanketed with the most colorful wildflowers I had ever seen before. It may take a lot more than a year, but we too will turn ashes into blossoms.”

By supporting one another in response to heartbreak, we will turn ashes into blossoms. This is what Jewish people have always done and will continue to do. In coming together as a united, caring, supportive community, we are renewed, making scorched earth bloom with beautiful and vibrant new life.

About the Author
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he had a highly-regarded 20+ year career in Consumer Packaged Goods, beginning at General Mills, Inc, then at Campbell Soup Company, where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. In 2005, he was recruited to serve as CEO of Manischewitz.
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