muse: n. a source of inspiration

On the 9th day, they blessed the Torah

I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate that every summer I get to volunteer at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California for two weeks as an artist for the teen camp’s Hagigah program.

This year, I worked with eighteen teenagers who wanted to paint their own tallit. I’ve done this before in religious school, so I was pretty confident that I could shepherd my teens from blank piece of fabric to a painted tallit complete with tzitzit. I had 8 days with my teens, with just under 3 hours per day total. We purchased pre-sewn products from TorahAura which included tzitzit, corner reinforcements and sewn-in buttonholes. The camp has a robust tie-dye program already, and we purchased a plethora of fabric paints from DharmaTrading. Campers also had kippot to paint and tallit bags to decorate (courtesy of a repurposed drop cloth, cut apart and stitched into open pouches).

Day one was prep day, with the teens sketching their ideas. They scoured through the Mishkan Tefillah for phrases to use on the atarah (most eschewed using the traditional bracha) and checked out the Jewish Catalog and the Shireinu for additional inspiration. Then it was time to begin putting paint and/or dye to fabric. Those who wanted to start with tie-dye headed to the art center and the painters, well, started painting.

Three hours a day is a lot of time to paint for some kids and not nearly enough for others. There were those who had a hard time getting started and those who jumped right in. There were those who missed a day or two while recuperating in the infirmary, and those who seemed to be taking a nap every time I peeked outside to check on their progress. There are those who were the first in and the last to leave, begging to skip cabin clean-up time (nope), pool time (really? In the 105 degree Sonoma sun?) and free time (well, okay). There were the kids who needed validation on lots of details, those who seemed to spend as much time cheering their friends on as they did painting their own, and those who were always willing to drop everything to help a friend hang up a wet tallit or strategize over a splotch or drip.

We cleaned a lot of brushes, kvetched over having to remove wet tallitot from tables so the tables could be repurposed for an evening activity (okay, I kvetched about that), and schvitzed in the sun.

It was awesome.

The finale of the Hagigah program is the Hagigah festival (which, well, would translate to festival festival) where the campers display their artwork, perform and generally celebrate having spent four weeks together learning and creating. In preparation, my campers wrote amazing artist statements and we hung the eighteen tallitot in our room. The statements took my breath away with their insights and deep thoughts about Judaism and camp. The tallitot were as beautiful as my campers, and every bit as unique. My campers’ pride in their work as they negotiated where and how to hang their tallitot was palpable.

The next day, Friday, we celebrated and took photos.

For most of the Hagigah campers, Friday represents the end of their arts experience. The performances are over, the artwork is put away, and all that’s left is one last Shabbat and the big goodbye. For my campers, though, there was one last celebration of their art – the opportunity to gather as a chevra to bless the Torah. Proudly, they all wore their beautifully crafted tallitot to tefillah Saturday morning and were called up for an aliyah in front of all of teen camp.

What a moment. What a process – nine days from blank tallit to aliyah. What a success!

As a career educator, I’m used to playing the long game most of the time. I don’t always know the result of my teaching efforts. Sometimes I’m lucky and a student will express an “oh, cool” moment in my class, or a returning alum will tell me how they used all they learned from me in high school. But those moments are pretty rare. This was a unique opportunity – the chance to work with a devoted, inspired and creative group of kids and to help them take their ideas and bring them to reality and to craft something they’ll treasure forever.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity.



July 24, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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