COMMUNITY AND LIFE’S LESSONS
On June 19, 2011, Andrew Silvershein, a 16-year-old camper at Ramah Darom, drowned in an accident during a camp rafting trip on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. This d’var Torah was written just days after the accident; it is in memory of Andrew on his Yartzheit that I dedicate this d’var Torah.
“Community” – a mega-word of our faith. We all know what it can do for us, both the positive things and the negative things.
And in these times, community has a whole new meaning – we are part of a global community, a local community, a virtual community. With Facebook, Twitter, texting, and other social networks, our communities are larger and more diverse than ever before.
Some deride Facebook and what it is doing to our cultural fabric regarding privacy. But for me, Facebook is another way of community living, and it can be used for good and for the not so good.
Let’s look at this week’s Torah portion, when Korach and his followers were looking to plan a mutiny around the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Imagine if you will…
Korach’s Facebook page features a status that reads “Please join me in showing Moses that he and Aaron have gone too far. Rise up!” Korach gets 250 “Likes” on his status.
The “wall-to-wall” between Moses and Korach begins with the latter posting: “All the community is holy, all of them, and God is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourself above God’s community?”
Moses then posts on Korach’s wall in response: “Isn’t it enough that God has set you apart as Levites and given you access to him and to the Mishkan? Now you want more?”
In this scenario, through his Facebook page, Korach was able to assemble 250 people to join him in a rebellion. In Torah time, it looks like it took no time at all: Between Verse 2 and Verse 19, the forces were rallied, the people were in place at the front of the ohel moed, the “Tent of Meeting,” and they were ready to rumble.
But in real time, how long do you think it would have taken to prepare for this?
Technology has given us the tools to be able to accomplish in literally split seconds what before this decade would have taken us days or even weeks to do. This is a blessing and a curse.
One strike of a “Send” key and you have done your work. Lashon hara has never been this easy.
But community these sites and networks are nonetheless. Our virtual community can often provide the same things a flesh and blood community can do, sometimes in tandem when necessary.
One year ago this week, our Southern Jewish community experienced a terrible tragedy. It does not matter that we all were not physically present during this tragedy; the effect was like ripples in the water – concentric circles beginning with all the teenagers who were on the river that day, emanating outward to points unknown.
A horrible accident occurs in Tennessee, and within moments, people in several states and even other countries are experiencing grief, shock, profound sadness, and countless other emotions that are too numerous to name here.
This event on the Ocoee River during a rafting trip by Camp Ramah Darom’s Gesher age division changed many people’s lives forever. A terrible accident in which a 16-year-old boy drowned transformed many of us, particularly the Ramah Darom community and our own children, and has raised the concept of community to new heights.
What ensued after the tragedy was an amazing outpouring of love and support within the structure of camp. Camp had no practice in this (thankfully), but what is ingrained in our tradition, what we want all of our children to learn, was brought to life and action in full throttle in the mountains of North Georgia.
The amount of support, love and counseling that occurred over the course of that week amid the sadness and grief was phenomenal; a support system is part of the camp structure. Different activities serving as outlets for the teens and overseen by caring staff – who also had to deal with their own grief and shock – were put into place.
Other Ramah camps offered beautiful letters of support, and former staff people rallied to their side and came up to camp to mourn and support and offer condolences. Meanwhile, we as parents were dealing with our own emotions at home, unable to hug our own children during this heartbreaking time.
But what got us through this was the knowledge that our children were in the best possible environment and with the best possible people to deal with what they were going through. This is community, and when our kids came out on the other side of this, they had experienced the most profound community building.
The parents of Andrew Silvershein, z”l, through their grief also saw the beauty of our Ramah community. They set up a memorial scholarship fund in his honor, because they too know what this Ramah community can do to our youth and for our youth.
Taking advantage of community for not-so-savory reasons will still go on, as it did in this week’s Torah portion. But taking advantage of community in the way we experienced that week, in the face of that terrible tragedy – this is what we need to teach our children and each other.
Editor’s note: Nancy Seifert Gorod provides customized learning, resources and support for individuals and families who seek to enhance, deepen or broaden their Jewish experience. She can be found at YourJewishLife.com. She is a member of the education staff at Camp Ramah Darom.
By Nancy Seifert Gorod
For The Atlanta Jewish Times