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Sukkot and Hakhel for Jewish Camp

Camp Ramah in the Poconos in Autumn (courtesy of FJC)

Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha 
Spread over us your shelter of peace
Hashkiveinu prayer, Ma’ariv Service

After the solemnity of Rosh Hashana and the relief of our forgiveness from God and the chance for a clean slate on Yom Kippur, God gave us my favorite holiday, Sukkot, commemorating the Israelites’ 40-year journey in the wilderness, and focused solely on simcha, happiness and joy. We are instructed to leave our homes and go out into nature and build a sukkah, a temporary – and perhaps vulnerable – shelter in which we dwell, enjoying family and friends, under God’s protection.

Each summer, like the Israelites, campers leave the comforts of their homes – and their families – to live in a temporary home (and yes, some camps really do feel like the wilderness!). They dwell in cabins, sharing a communal sleeping and living space, and they are forced out of their comfort zones. Camp, like Sukkot, provides true joy and simcha for Chanichim (campers) and Madrichim (staff) alike. After a long, and for many, difficult school year, camp provides a welcoming home-away-from-home focused on infusing joy into lived Judaism. Each sukkah looks different and has its own special decorations, just as each camp welcomes and includes each individual camper with their unique qualities.

And like the sukkah that appears in our liturgy as a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace, camp too provides that blanket of safety to all its inhabitants.

One lesser-known ritual of the holiday of Sukkot is called Hakhel, the inclusive gathering of “men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities,” to hear and learn the Torah. This happened only once every seven years and it welcomed, included, and engaged the entire community together in person in Jerusalem.

Today, as we move forward from the isolation imposed by COVID, various communities are reclaiming Hakhel’s core theme of communal gathering by hosting events that bring people together again – at a time when we so desperately crave it.

Beginning on Sunday, December 4th (in just 52 days, but who’s counting?!), Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) will gather together the entire field of Jewish camp for our very own version of a hakhel, Leaders Assembly 2022. Like the festival of Sukkot, we will create a temporary dwelling for camp professionals, lay leaders, donors, educators, communal professionals, and others at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia, and we will invite everyone in for festive meals, exciting plenaries, and critical breakout sessions where we will learn new skills and enjoy being together in person for the first time in 4+ years. Together, we will celebrate the incredible achievements of the Jewish camp community.

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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