Each week at camp we highlight a different value throughout our activities and all over camp. This week’s Jewish Value of the Week is Kavannah, focus or intention.
By Rabbi Melissa Buyer, Faculty
We spend a lot of our time these days with our heads bowed forward. It’s not in prayer however, rather craning to see the blue-lit screen in the palm of our hands, or working at our desk staring at the screens on our laps, or simply watching one foot step in front of the other. Summer gives our children – and those of us lucky enough to be working here– the opportunity to look up and around, to take in the beauty of the Berkshires, to greet friends eye to eye, and to see our hands do unbelievable work. But it’s not enough to look up – or even participate in the endless camp fun. We want to inspire all campers and staff to look around with Kavannah – with focus or intention. How can we be mindful, reflective and focused as we approach everything we do here this summer?
Perhaps we need an experiment! In the first few weeks of CLC, Nili Shriber (the Crane Lake Gardener) and I will be working with Chaverim and Olim in the garden. Together we will attempt to teach and work with our students so they come to appreciate that gardening is not a hobby, rather a sacred responsibility and privilege we earn in tending to our planet. In our Kesher course (courses Chaverim and Olim choose for their Jewish Learning during the summer) we are using Jewish texts to explore our earthly obligations, to learn to be mindful in our approach to the work and even to study the spiritual nature of this work in Jewish prayer and meditation. This study sets the tone for the very real (and dirty) work of weeding, watering, protecting, beautifying, seeding and planting in our Crane Lake garden.
The idea is simple – how can we teach our campers (and in the process, ourselves) that when we slow down and pay attention, we cultivate more than flowers or vegetables. We also grow our gratitude, our appreciation for God’s beautiful works of creation, and we fall madly in love with our own capacity for changing the world for the better. Instead of rushing in to weed, or plant or water, we hope to have each camper pause to even utter their own Kavannah – a little mindful intention, an opportunity to bless the work of their hands, or to remind themselves of the importance of the work.
Imagine if this practice of Jewish mindfulness or setting a Kavannah caught on! What would our lives be like if we were to pause and be mindful of all the blessings that exist in the people we meet, places we visit and work we do? I believe we might feel more enriched with every moment of our experience, that we might feel more present in our day to day, that we would be aware and in touch with our own feelings and with the feeling of others, and we would learn – ever so slowly to be open to the fullness of each moment.
If we were to embrace Kavannah – the idea of setting intention, might we learn to treasure each interaction, each experience, and each day as the blessing and miracle that it is? Let’s just see…
Rabbi Melissa Buyer is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Israel of the City of New York. She received her BA in Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, her Masters of Arts in Hebrew Letters, Masters of Arts in Jewish Education and Rabbinic Ordination from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.
Rabbi Buyer has served in various leadership positions in the field of Jewish Education, happily engaged with organizations such as Hebrew Union College, the Association of Reform Jewish Educators, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Matan, and Makom and the Jewish Education Project. Rabbi Buyer is of the third generation in her family to be born in Los Angeles but happily traded traffic and four seasons of sun for New York City! This is her 5th summer on faculty at Crane Lake, and her daughters, Lily and Josie, are both at camp this summer too!