Last month, a rabbi visiting Camp Harlam Overnight Camp scowled when in the dining hall, he saw the campers banging on tables to the beat of Birkat Hamazon, Grace After Meals. He missed it. This rabbi missed the whole point. He missed the fact that hundreds of campers knew all the words to a very long Hebrew blessing. He missed the fact that in that moment they were absolutely aware of the connection between eating and gratitude. He missed the Jewish pride in their eyes as they felt that knowing Hebrew and connecting Jewishly, is cool. And he missed the spiritual release that was happening for our campers in that dining hall, during Birkat Hamazon and song session.
For too long, our Reform Movement was so concerned about the decorum style of the past, that we have sometimes felt constricted in our spiritual expression. It’s time to learn from those Harlam campers, to release in emotion and spirituality, to stop behaving so well.
Our prayer services, our communal experience of recognizing something beyond ourselves, have great potential to touch us when we sing and when we move. Whether it’s clapping hands, swaying, drumming the prayerbook or dancing in the aisles as some do during L’cha Dodi, a sense of release helps us to move beyond decorum and to be present in a moment. As Cantor Frankel has said, “the aisles are open!”
If this is new, it might be uncomfortable. Anything new is. But know that the lessons of Camp Harlam are not only for children. Camp’s lessons are for our souls.
This Shabbat, as we will welcome many new and prospective members to our Friday night service, let us learn the lesson of spiritual release and share our spirit! Shabbat shalom.