Readers Respond

Shalom Leviathan Readers,

All of us here at Leviathan Jewish Journal hope to maintain a positive, creative outlet for sharing Jewish culture on campus and beyond, and we feel that we can achieve this goal if you, dear readers, join the conversation. We invite you to submit to our Spring 2020 issue,  and we especially encourage your voice to join ours.

With that, we would like to commence LJJ Readers Respond.  This section will be devoted to readership engagement. Our editors and staff members will list a handful of topics we’d like to hear our readers commentary on, and you may submit a piece on whatever interests you. It can be a candid memoir, a political editorial, a poem or a work of fiction. We will also consider original photography and artwork. Our editing staff will review your submissions and curate them for our next publication.

If you would like to participate, send your response to leviathanvoice@gmail.com.

 -M.R.

Spring 2020 Topics: 

  • Alfred Kazin            
  • Mel Brooks                  
  • Bob Dylan      
  • Spring Fever
  • Communal Living on Campus
  • Birthright     
  • The Dining Halls
  • Passover        
  • Friday Night  
  • Meals for One    
  • Driving in the Rain

The Inevitability Of Conflict In The Modern Promise Land

by Wayne Chien

There have been many times in history where conflicts between various groups have been deemed irreconcilable and unending due to the intractable nature of the conflict. Many, like the American Civil War or The Palestinian War of 1947-48, can be considered existential conflicts, as a defeat for a particular side would cause the demise of the entire nation. In Palestine, the day after the British Mandate ended, the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine, declared itself to be an independent state. This was immediately followed by several Arab nations declaring war on Israel, under the assumption that the state of Israel was an illegitimate outpost of Western colonialism in the heart of the Arab world. This essay will attempt to show the irreconcilable differences between the State of Israel and the Arab Middle East through an examination of Zionist writings, as well as Ari Shavit’s retrospective account in his book My Promised Land, argues that these differences made the conflict between Israel and its neighbors inevitable.

The conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs of the Palestine region can be traced to the creation of Zionist thought and its implementation. Zionism can be best described as a sort of “returning home” movement for the diaspora Jews living in the world after being defeated and expelled from Palestine by the Romans circa 135 C.E. (1) The Jewish people migrated and settled around Europe and parts of Asia; however, they were almost always treated as second class citizens or worse, with waves of anti-Semitism rising periodically. In the late 1800s, a wave of anti-Semitism hit Europe in the form of pogroms against Jewish shtetls in the Pale of Settlement in Tsarist Russia. This was only one of many events occurred, and lead to the flowering of Zionist thinking.

The pogroms in Russia were mainly caused by false accusations leveled against the Jewish community after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. (2) The Russian government believed that placing the blame on the Jews would channel people’s attention away from the country’s economic problems. This lead to the Kishinev Pogrom, which saw 49 Jews killed and the destruction of multiple Jewish communities. The Kishinev Pogrom was unique in the fact that, although Jews have been persecuted throughout their history, no comparable level of state-sponsored violence experienced in Europe since the Spanish Inquisition. (3) This would eventually lead to high levels of migration to Palestine and cultivate a new attitude towards the existential need for Jews to establish their own state.

Before the Kishinev Pogrom, Jews in the West were targeted after the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish captain was accused of selling military secrets to Germany. Although Dreyfus would later be acquitted, Zionists such as Theodore Hertzl saw the event as proof of a virulent anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe. Thus, the Dreyfus affair drove his efforts to establish a Jewish state. (4) The idea was to “normalize” the Jewish people by giving them a state of their own and thereby eliminate the arguments that Jews were perpetual aliens in other people’s lands. 

The first settlements in Palestine were undertaken by pioneers from the Russian Empire and Romania, who eventually received support from sponsors such as Lord Rothschild. Herbert Bentwich, Ari Shavit’s grandfather, was another early sponsor of Zionist settlement. The Zionist pioneers shared the common principle of Zionism, which was the establishment of a sanctuary for the diaspora of persecuted Jews, but they did not attempt to rapidly transform the land like the Labor Zionists that came after them. They stayed at vineyards owned by Lord Rothschild, where hired Arab labourers completed most of the work. (5) This relationship between Jews and Arabs during this time was relatively peaceful, as the Jewish settlers provided a source of income for local Arabs. (6) However, this would change, as the ultimate goal of settling the vast diaspora of Jews started to threaten the existence of Arabs in Palestine, especially as the Labor Zionism of the Second Aliyah would endanger the agricultural relationship between the Jews and Arabs.

Labor Zionism and the establishment of the kibbutz would eventually lead to the disintegrating relationship between Arabs and Jews; however, the relationship was fairly amicable and beneficial to begin with. The kibbutz is a small farm in Israel, created by the Labor Zionists in an attempt to regrow the land from desert to forest. The first people to live in the kibbutz were idealists, believing that they could create a socialist community based on Jewish unity. Ein Harod, one of the first kibbutzim created, was rapidly transformed by the Labor Zionists, who drained the marshes in the Valley of Harod to produce arable and malaria-free land. This made the land much more attractive to live in; however, it would soon become a source of conflict between the local Arabs and the Jewish settlers, as now there was something real and tangible to fight for in the form of higher quality land and an increase in Jewish migration and agriculture. (7) Moreover, the pioneers of the kibbutzim intended to do their own labor, which left Arab workers unemployed and resentful of people whom they now see not as potential employers, but as intruders.

From the establishment of Ein Harod to the death of Dreyfus in 1935, the Jews and Arabs both benefited from agricultural and technological advancements undertaken in Palestine. Shavit tells the story of the Rehovot Orange Groves, which were extremely profitable and put Jewish produce on the world stage. The Jews had bought the land owned by Arab landlords and compensated the fellahin, agricultural laborers in the Middle East, living there with either cash or land grants. (8) The Labor Zionists at this time did not have the numbers to harvest the oranges by themselves, so they still employed Arab laborers; however, their ideology of Jewish cultivation of the land in anticipation of creating a productive Jewish settlement composed of Jewish labourers left the Arab inhabitants bereft of land they considered theirs. The relative peacefulness of Palestine at this time was still built on unstable ground, as Jews in Rehovot were starting to notice the widespread intolerance of Jews in Europe and a need to complete their Zionist vision, while the Arabs are beginning to become weary of the ever-increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants.  

Both the Jews and Arabs began acting on their mutual distrust of the others’ goals. The Arabs organized nationalist cells that targeted Jews living in Palestine, while the Jewish community began illegally importing munitions for the Haganah, the Jewish Self-Defence Organization. (9) The roots of a prolonged Arab-Jewish conflict would culminate in April 1936, as Arab and Jewish communities began carrying out tit-for-tat attacks on each other, which were completely different than the sporadic attacks the Jewish community experienced before this period. These attacks reflected the animosity and distrust between the two communities; however, both of them reflected a greater existential threat that was their common denominator. The Jews were afraid that their new country would be overrun by the large Arab populations bordering them, while the Arabs in Palestine began to form a national identity in reaction to the Jewish one. In 1939, the Arab insurgencies became more organized, as did the Haganah, which ultimately led to the seemingly unending violence seen throughout the history of Israel. 

The inevitability of the conflict becomes more clear when considering the ethos of Zionism. Although Zionists such as Herzl believed that a peaceful state inhabited by both the Jews and Arabs was possible, the early Zionists, captivated by their romantic mission of returning to the Promised Land, were less capable of acknowledging complexities of creating a Jewish state. 

Unlike the romantic Zionist leaders before him, Ze’ev Jabotinsky had no illusions about the role of Arabs in the new Jewish state. Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism called for not only the settlement of Jews in Palestine but the rapid transformation of the land into a primarily Jewish state. 

The Jewish majority in Eretz Yisra’el: What then is, practically speaking, a Jewish “State”? When can it truly be said that our country has ceased to be “Palestine” and become Eretz Yisra’el? Only then, when there will be more Jews than non- Jews; for the first condition of a national state is national majority. . . . (10)

Zionists did not want to remain a minority after the Jewish return to their homeland like they had been in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and the United States. Jabotinsky understood the Jewish need to become a majority in their new country of Israel, and the need to address the Arab question. 

In 1937, Jabotinsky submitted evidence to the House of Lords in the UK for both the need for a Jewish state and for massive Jewish immigration to Palestine, regardless of current Arab settlement at the time. His evidence implies peace would be achieved due to the bettering of the Arabs economic status under a Jewish state, but does not hide his intention of making Arabs a minority. (11) Jabotinsky’s attitude can be seen as colonialist in nature; however, his justification still comes from the Zionist theme of trying to provide Jews sanctuary in an increasingly anti-Semitic world. 

The existential necessity for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine is what ultimately makes the conflict between the Jews and Arabs inevitable. Though there were instances of relative peace, as seen in Ari Shavit’s depictions of life before 1937, the irrevocable differences between the desires of the Jewish state and the Arabs create a situation where conflict cannot be avoided.  The settlement of the Jewish diaspora must mean some relocation of Arabs, which was unacceptable to the growing Palestinian national movement that was reacting to the Zionist movement. 

Jabotinski’s and Herzl’s theories of economic development promoting peace between the Jews and Arabs also turned out to be untrue. They believed that Jewish settlement would improve the lives of both ethnic groups; however, as the land in Palestine became more valuable, the fighting over resources became zero-sum, as gains on one side were seen as stolen by the other side. As such, the Zionist project of statehood for the Jewish people who would redeem their ancient homeland by working the land themselves was bound to cause conflict with the current inhabitants, who resented the effort to convert them into a landless minority. Even if the Zionists had been more sensitive and tactful toward their Arab neighbors, Shavit suggests, they could not have altered the basic conflict between Zionist settlers and the Arab inhabitants of the region they were inevitably displacing. (12)

The displacement of Jews first occured after The Palestinian War of 1947-48, as the war caused an influx of refugees that had recently had their homes destroyed. After the war, many of Israel’s Arab neighbors started to pass anti-Zionist laws, which in the spring of 1951 caused over 15,000 Jews to flee from Iraq each month. (13) Shavit describes how the Israeli government bulldozed and confiscated Palestinian land to accommodate new Jewish immigration. He describes how there is widespread denial about the Palestinian tragedy, even as the Arabic names of the cities change. 

Asud becomes Ashdod, Aqir becomes Ekron, Bashit becomes Aseret, Daniel becomes Daniel, Gizmu becomes Gazmu, Hadita becomes Hadid. The Arab City of Lydda is now the new immigrants’ city of Lydda. A dozen towns and hundreds of villages and thousands of sites receive new identities. An enormous refugee rehabilitation project is carried out in the homes and fields of others who are now refugees themselves. (14)

Israel as a country could not have survived if it did not undertake this displacement of the Arabs. As Jabotinsky stated, the Jews needed to have a majority country, as this was simply not possible if the state did not conquer lands inhabited by Arabs. The goal of Zionism, a majority Jewish state that would support the entire diaspora of persecuted Jews, cannot coexist with the limited resources of Palestine, thus making conflict inevitable.


References

Dowty, Alan. Israel – Palestine. Cambridge: Polity, 2017.

Shavit, Ari. My Promised Land: the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2018.

Thompson, Bruce “Origins of Zionism “ University of California at Santa Cruz, (September 30, 2019)

Thompson, Bruce “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah“ University of California at Santa Cruz, (October 4, 2019) 

Thompson, Bruce “Varieties of Zionism“ University of California at Santa Cruz, (October 2, 2019) Troy, Gil, and Anatolij Ščaranskij. The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland – Then, Now, Tomorrow. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018.


Footnotes

  1. Bruce Thompson, “Origins of Zionism”, University of California at Santa Cruz (September 30, 2019)
  2. Alan Dowty, Israel-Palestine, (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2005) pp.31-35
  3. Bruce Thompson, “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  4, 2019)
  4.  Bruce Thompson, “Varieties of Zionism”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  2, 2019)
  5. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.6-11
  6. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.51-52
  7.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.42-47
  8. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.53-56
  9.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.59-62
  10.  Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “The Fundamentals of the Betarian Viewpoint (1934)” in The Zionist Ideas ed. Gil Troy (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018) pp.68-71
  11. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “Evidence Submitted to the Palestine Royal Commission  (1937)” in The Zionist Ideas ed. Gil Troy (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018) pp.71-72
  12. Bruce Thompson, “Labor Zionism and the Second Aliyah”, University of California at Santa Cruz (October  4, 2019)
  13.  Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.147-151
  14. Ari Shavit. My Promised Land, (New York, Spiegel & Grau 2013) pp.161

 

Visiting Israel

Written by Amanda Leiserowitz

Photo courtesy of Amanda Leiserowitz

When I was about fifteen, the Temple Sinai youth group took a two week trip to Israel. Our new Rabbi and the Israeli woman who both coordinate the youth program were the only adults on the trip; the rest of us were teens of various ages and desert city high schools, maybe ten in total, including my older brother and me. 

Most of my memories of that trip are a blur; we travelled all over Israel in an incredibly short span of time, spending no more than three nights in any given place. Remembering it is like a slideshow of snapshots – the first is getting off the bus to eat falafel, pita, and hummus at a restaurant that had red-and-white checkerboard patterned tablecloths. The table was long to accommodate our whole group, out on a covered porch. The cups were plastic. The next snapshot: a nighttime scavenger hunt in a city where we were allowed to wander away from the adults, weave through Hebrew-speaking crowds. I think we ate ice cream. Another snapshot: walking along a beach at night near a noisy market. There was music playing nearby; maybe someone had a ukulele. Another: sleeping in bunk beds at a hostel. I had an upper bunk. Downstairs, there was a dining room, with clear pitchers of water, long tables, and a sliding door that led to a garden. And looking out from a hill over an ancient city, and walking through a crowded market, and floating in the Dead Sea, which stung every part of my body, and visiting the Western Wall, where I was awed by its height, before we went underground to the cool, dim tunnels, where more of the Wall still stood.

The trip was a fast-paced whirlwind, but one place that sticks out to me is the kibbutz we visited, our last stop before flying back to the United States. We stayed with host families who had kids our age, who made the place feel even more real than it had felt before.

One night, we walked through the neighborhood with them, talking in English. They’d grown up with English as much as they’d grown up with Hebrew, or at least nearly; they were far more fluent than I could even have dreamed of being in another language. 

It was evening, with long shadows cast down on the road from one-story houses with small yards—and beyond the houses, sand. It was like any other suburban neighborhood I’d been to, the heat and sand especially familiar, reminiscent of the Southern California desert I’d spent half my life in by that point. 

I slept on a mattress on the floor, in the bedroom of a girl my age. Her room faced the street we had strolled down, hours before. I remember the streetlamp shining in, and thinking of the bicycles, the culs-du-sac, the language, even the shadows we’d walked through—and the world felt small.

The next day, we piled into a roofless Jeep and drove through undeveloped land around the kibbutz. Someone pointed at some not-so-distant sand dunes.
“That’s the border,” they said. “We’re pretty much at the country’s edge.”

“It doesn’t look like anything.”

“Not really, no.”

“Where is it?”

“There, see?”

We all squinted against the sunlight. Was there a line in the sand? Any type of indicator that one land became the next? 

No matter how hard I looked, I didn’t see anything. It was all just desert, seeming endless from where we were. 

Eventually, we turned around and drove back to the kibbutz, hot wind rushing past us as we bumped along. We had traveled all over Israel for two weeks, from end to end. The country’s smallness boggled my mind. It was an entire country, smaller than my home state of California, far smaller—a fact that I had known, but hadn’t felt quite so real until I was there at the edge. (It wouldn’t be until years later that the vastness of California was clear to me, driving more than eight hours up and down the state—but that’s a story for another time).

We had Shabbat services at the kibbutz’s temple, separated from our old and new friends by gender. Shabbat dinner followed; we all piled into a huge dining hall with long tables, white tablecloths. Both the American and Israeli teens were seated at a table parallel to the windows, turned into dark mirrors as the sun went down. Before us on the table were candles, plates of chicken and vegetables, covered challah. The seating was mixed, unlike in the temple.

The conversation I remember from that night is fragmented. 

“Does everyone who grows up here stay?”

“No, no.”

What happens to those who left? Those who stayed? I don’t remember all the answers we got to our incessant questions, as there were many. But I do remember, clearly—one of the Americans asking, “Do you like living here?”

The answer was a clear, “Yes.” But it wasn’t a short answer; there were things they wanted to change, including the inequality of genders that was built-in to parts of their lifestyle. And they were prepared to make it happen.

Our last days were much more upbeat. We visited the cows that the kibbutz owned, as saw their mechanized milking process. The teens took us to a public pool with green-painted walls and a tiny convenience store filled with Israeli ice cream. Our last night at the kibbutz was our last night in Israel; they had a barbeque for us, outside, near the community center. We sat on the grass.

When my American group piled back into our van early the next morning, we took selfies with our new friends. It was dark, and we might have been illuminated only by the lights from the buildings—I don’t remember the drive to the airport, or even which airport we went to. I don’t remember the long plane ride home. I must have slept through most of it.

The kibbutz was a paradox of the familiar and unfamiliar. It was a world not unlike my own, with suburban streets, barbeques, and Shabbat dinners. But their society’s rules were different from my own; they followed Shabbat much more strictly than my family ever had. Their synagogue still had gender-separated seating, with women looking down from a second-floor balcony. The teens were bilingual, and brimming with the confidence to make change happen. The community of the kibbutz was tight-knit, but it was no utopia.

There, in the kibbutz, I think I understood what my parents signed my brother and I up for – to see the smallness of the world, and the similarities between people across the globe. Despite the different lives we led, the kibbutz teens and I had a lot that connected us – not just our shared (albeit different) Judaism, but our intersecting worldviews and cultural artifacts as well. It didn’t hurt that we all loved kariot, the chocolate-filled cereal, that we all ate for breakfast, unafraid of asking for seconds.

Latkes for Busy Tired College Students That Kinda Suck at Cooking

Written and Photographed by Rachel Ledeboer

Ingredients:

  • 2 potatoes
  • ½ of an onion
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Vegetable oil

Peel your potatoes and shred them up with a box grater. Take the grated potatoes and fold them up inside a kitchen towel, then wring the towel over the sink to get some of the moisture out of the potatoes. Then, grate the onion half, wring out some of the excess water, and mix it with the potatoes. In a little bowl, crack open the egg and stir it up.

In a large bowl, put the potatoes and onion in, then add the egg, flour, and seasonings, and mix it all up. The amount of seasonings can really depend on personal preference.

Put a few tablespoons of oil in a large pan and put your burner on medium heat. Once the oil has gotten a chance to warm up, use about one tablespoon of your potato mixture for each latke. Doing about three latkes in the pan at a time, cook them until golden brown (around 3-5 minutes per side), flip, and repeat on the other side. Place the finished latkes on a plate with a paper towel underneath to help soak up the oil. 

Serve with applesauce, and enjoy! (You could theoretically eat them with sour cream but I don’t want to endorse this— applesauce is definitely superior!!)

How deep will you get?

by Tamar Weir

looking at the world through your stained windows

its a sunday morning so you’ve opened up the blinds

all is there for you to see

but you’re only 20, life is happening to you

but it has only just begun, and eyes closed

makes it seem easier

the false illusion of simplicity

and days of resting on various couches

with different drinks in hand

fleeing to a different moment

constant movement

stillness, patience, consciousness, not so constant

rare.

because with that,

time is of the essence

time for processing

time for careful decision making

time for spontaneous non-decision making,

but

time to be still

nothing is constant

cannot push it to be so.

learning that.

slowly over looking at my mom’s eyes

I see myself in the shine of her pupils

dark seems to be black

but only with light does the black shine bright

mommy’s eyes tell stories

that I’ve only dreamt of

never felt in my body, not like this at least.

feeling it in my body,

I do not need your approval.

validity.

you are valid?

are you?

that’s what he tells me.

no confusion, machismo, ego. I know it’s there somewhere.

am I pushing?

I know how you love me.

was it all the breakfasts that kept you coming

and hungry

for me.

or was it the questioning?

mom taught me how to ask, why?

no punishment for the maybes and refusals to

simply say yes or no.

questioning. 

No one teaches the children to.

kindergarten is for playing.

but why?

why blue why green why red

because.

authority.

believe.

sit.

be who they want you to be.

using all the whys and hows

how can I know every part of your body

without the questions

Elaborate. I think.

Tamar use your words. I deeply think.

he came from somewhere,

I’m from the suburbs a few hours away

vineyards 

white families with pools

lining the streets and avenues

distance will not separate us

although distance might have wanted to.

distance brought us together

together again 

and again.

learned habits acquired with time

mine different from all of yours

but the flow of verbal confirmations

stares, unite us to the present

water makes us collide,

as you steal my wave, or an attempt to shove

the patterns of the wind

and my uneasy stance pushes me into the water

the water feels safe, as it surrounds all our soles

the wet suit feels warm, as it starts to become

cloudy.

it might be cold outside

but with our shower beers in hand

and the yellow brick along the shower

I don’t feel a bit cold

wherever we came from brought us here

where we can turn on the hot water

and feel the comfort of looking at each other.

Berlin

by Tamar Weir

Arriving

landing 

my feet are on the ground

officially german soil

officially in the land of my ancestors

pulsing Godly

reactive vagina

arriving, unaffecting

vagina is now infected

german soil welcoming me with each new coffee shop

cacao beans

livening up the mood

now im awake and can see

all thats been left here for me to be

an infected jew thats what I am

no yellow star pasted on my shoulder

no signal, no sign, no mark

no marker in a sea of people, 

walking

take a moment to breathe.

Fasten my invisible seat belt 

attached to my heart

For only a moment. 

I am free.

as the trains go by in every which way.

4 Things I’ve Learned at Jewish Summer Camp

Written by Raina Scherer

Illustrated by Nina Scherer

Growing up at Jewish summer camp has endowed me with crucial knowledge about life and people. There’s something special about being in a temporary community for two months, surrounded by children and Jewish programming 24/7; it really brings out all sides of people’s personalities. As someone who intends on having a career  in the Jewish camping world, I’m a huge advocate for the value that camp can bring to one’s life. After spending nine summers as a camper and four (going on five!) summers as a staff member at my reform Jewish camp, I’ve gathered some essential nuggets about myself and how I relate with others, as well as how I connect with the broader, spiritual world. 

Self-Care Is Crucial 

Camp is an incredibly hectic environment. Between trying to adhere to a schedule and organizing programming for campers, stress can easily and quickly accumulate. When you’re in the middle of the chaos, it often seems impossible to even conceptualize taking a break for a minute. Eventually, your internal engine is bound to give out and you’re sure to break down. 

I learned this the tough way through tie-dye, of all things. One can only take so many hours of preparing and rinsing tie-dye before endless blends of rainbows begin to infect your dreams at night (yes, this really did happen to me). When your day job becomes a comatose graveyard shift, something’s got to give. I wasn’t taking care of myself or my mental health, and I suffered immensely because of it. Luckily, one of my mentors taught me the wonders asking for help and taking breaks for myself. This might sound like common sense to a lot of people at work, but camp has a way of transcending the feeling of a normal summer gig. 

Being Completely Engulfed in a Jewish Space for a Whole Summer Is a Liberating Experience

One thing I often have trouble explaining to non-camp people is the particular experience of being surrounded by Jews and Jewish culture for an entire summer and the feeling of acceptance that comes along with it. Growing up as a Jew from Northern California in a moderately practicing family, most of my Jewish activities outside of camp happened at my synagogue once or twice a week. Compared to the sparseness of Sunday school classes, camp is a whole different beast entirely. 

Instead of learning a bit of Jewish content in class and going back to the secular world at home, at camp you exist in a Jewish environment for an exponentially longer amount of time. With the exception of my Birthright trip to Israel, I’ve never experienced anything else comparable. Hebrew and Yiddish phrases are part of the camp vernacular and are understood by everyone. Everybody knows what Shabbat is or why we say certain prayers. We’re able to relate to each other through stories of our crazy families on Passover and how we all have a cousin named Rachel. It’s the only place that I’ve really felt like I can live a truly Jewish life with other Jews, all day every day. Even though it’s temporary, camp provides me with my annual dose of feeling understood. I don’t feel like an outsider there because I don’t have to explain or justify my Judaism and Jewish identity to anybody. Instead of my Jewish identity setting me apart, it brings me closer to my community.

Spirituality Can Take On Many Different Forms

After my Bat Mitzvah, I was very adamant that I was “done with Judaism except for camp.” My 13-year-old self was exhausted from all the preparation my parents and rabbis were telling me to do for my big day. It all felt ingenuine to me because I had to abide by so many guidelines, and frankly, I was just overall disinterested in the whole production. Camp never felt that way to me, though. During t’filah, daily prayer service, at camp, we got to be more creative with our services than I ever got to be at my temple. We could journal, meditate, sing secular songs in place of prayers (even Chance the Rapper!), and make art and crafts relating to the themes of the prayers. We were able to mold our spiritual experiences with methods of reflection and intention that connected with us individually. We were also able to explore alternative creative means of prayer that our peers connected with, broadening our scope of what spirituality looks like. Praying in these ways felt more comfortable to me because I could express myself more fully than I could with the ways I had been taught at home. These methods are what got me interested in Judaism again which has ultimately shaped my chosen career path significantly.

Camp Friends Just Hit Different 

You can learn a lot about others when you’re stuck with the same people all day every day for weeks on end. All sides of one’s personality come out during the camping season— the good and the bad. Part of living in the camp environment is learning how to navigate relationships with peers and coworkers through all of it. It has caused me to look at conflict resolution in a whole new light, because without effective problem solving, the entire camp machine is doomed to malfunction.

Additionally, I’ve learned to have more compassion and empathy for others through these relationships. Working at camp is the hardest fun you can have; it takes a whole lot of energy but it’s always worth it to be a part of making the magic. Supporting each other while going through the whirlwind of the summer forged strong relationships that have stood up to the test of time. My camp friends are my best friends, and it’s because of our crazy shared experience in our camp careers and the fact that we’ve been there for each other through it all. Camp taught me how to take care of myself and how to love with my whole heart. It also allowed me to reconnect with my spirituality and my Jewish community in ways that felt honest and true to myself. The two months out of the year when I get my juiciest life lessons make waiting out the other ten worth it. 

A Word from God

by Jackson Patrick-Sternin

Some fourteen billion years ago, I snapped my metaphysical fingers and the void grew so hot it scorched my skin. For ten billion years I was content with observing the chaotic beauty that ensued. I watched this ritual cosmic dance in awe, innumerable particles joining into molecules, innumerable molecules attracting and building innumerable new constructions, all joined in some way or another. I consumed this spectacle for ten billion years, until I happened upon a baby planet that You named Earth. 

Your Earth was the last of my findings, a planet of flame that would soon cool, and in cooling would produce thousands of years of water condensing and falling from the sky. I saw potential in this place, the potential for You. I watched with great joy as molecules joined in such a way that they created something more similar to myself than anything I could find in the landscape generated by the fateful snap. They were my first children, primitive extensions of myself, which first consumed light and minerals for survival, then each other. I turned a blind eye to this development, the natural drive for life to cannibalize, and I selfishly saw a means to end the loneliness that has plagued my existence. I saw a means to finally have company in this vast landscape.

Soon after the little creatures turned on each other, the creatures You call bacteria, they began a rapid arms race of both defensive and offensive weaponry. They began escalating in complexity. They eventually shaped into what you call fish, creatures with a speck of free will. Some of these would become terrible giants, some would hide in the shadows, others would make their way onto land as they were pushed from their initial habitat by lack of resources for survival. They would adapt to the world of air. An explosion of life that challenged the creation of the universe itself in its violence and complexity ensued, generating an enormous breadth of variance and intelligence. They would surpass that spec of will into primitive conscious thought. Life and death hung in fragile balance. The most lethal beings were those very first bacteria which took hold and ate the higher life forms. The higher creatures developed mechanisms to deal with those lethal little things and most survived. Yet, a cycle of extinction and rebirth followed. With each mass extinction, the survivors grew stronger. 

After some time, my hopes were realized with the evolution of a strange and brilliant creature, the evolution of You. You were my greatest triumph. You were to play the role of the blood in your veins. Just as the red and white blood cells that run through Your veins deal in life and death, the red sustaining you and the white eradicating those little creatures that make You sick, You were to sustain the Earth. Your collective intelligence rivaled my own.

Yet, like the bacteria that came long before You, You turned on yourselves. A powerful minority of your population became the cancer that your bodies can barely defend against, a cancer that is eating through the enormous organism called Earth as much as it is your individual bodies. I watched in horror as the worst among you cannibalize your species and the fountain of life you inhabit. I reached out to some of you, passing simple rules and doctrines by which to live, by which to sustain humanity at large, and your Earth by proximity. I thought I had made myself clear, but I suppose I wasn’t clear enough. I continue to observe and I continue to love You as many fall further and further from their purpose, the worst among you eradicating all in their path. Your years may very well have become finite, and I fear I will be left to explore the vast nothingness once again in solitude. Yet, while the cannibals bite harder, the collective force of good among you vastly outnumbers those terrible few. This is a time of great peril, a turning point for mankind and all of my children who have worked eons to exist as they do. It is time to take your stand, in unity you will triumph. I love You, and I pray for You.

Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup

Written and illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

Ingredients:

  • Matzo meal (2 packets)
  • Low sodium vegetable broth (2 boxes)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Garlic powder
  • A dash of olive oil

Season carrots by tossing them in olive oil and garlic powder. Spread them out on a tinfoil covered tray and put in the oven for 20 minutes at 425℉

Mix matzo meal in a small bowl with eggs and vegetable oil, according to the instructions on the box. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes before forming into about 12 relatively small balls.

Put the vegetable broth in a large pot on the stovetop and cover on high heat. Let sit until boiling. Once boiling, put the formed matzo balls into the broth and cook until the matzo balls are golden—time will vary depending on the size and type of matzo meal (so check the instructions on the packet!). Add the carrots as well, so that they become nice and soft. 

Chop the celery to your desired size. When the matzo balls are nearly done, add the celery. 

You can add any other veggies or garnish you want, like onions, shallots, parsnip, dill, or parsley.

Extra carrots make an excellent side dish for your meal!

Once the matzo balls are cooked through and all the veggies are soft, serve to 5-6 people! This dish goes great with challah and honey garlic tofu to make a delicious vegetarian meal for any day, Shabbat, or other special occasion.

If you don’t have enough people to finish your huge batch of soup—or if you plan to eat it alone—just cover and refrigerate! Matzo ball soup makes for great leftovers, since the matzo balls have more time to soak up the broth.