Shabbat Shalom. I was really struggling to figure out what to write for this sermon. The first thing that came to my mind was my father, especially considering that Father’s Day was only a week ago. As I delved deeper into how I would write about that topic, I got more and more confused. I struggled to put into words how I felt about my father. Very rarely am I left speechless, but when it came to writing about my father, nothing could come out. My father was a Kawaga camper and counselor for a long time and yet, I have rarely gotten to enjoy camp with him like many of you have on Father/Son Weekend. I never could understand why he would never come up to Kawaga, whether it be for Father/Son or even alumni.
Seeing all the alumni with their sons this past week made me realize why my dad felt this way. I will admit that my dad isn’t exactly someone who lives for nostalgia, but I think it’s possible that the fact that he could no longer come to camp to the degree that I’m able to might in some way upset him. The thought of being up here, even for just a few days, would have inspired him to never want to leave. Early in my life, I knew about Kawaga. I knew how to do a Hitsu and an Alvivo before I arrived for my first year, and when I finally did arrive, I instantly realized that I loved this place, not because my father went here or because it was a family tradition, but just because of the little things. Things you might not realize on a daily basis, but looking back, these are the things that exemplify all that Kawaga is and stands for.
For inspiration to write more, I looked up this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach. As I proceeded to pore over an internet summary, the story related more and more to how I felt about camp. The main details of the Torah portion are that the Israelites had finally escaped Egypt and had been continuously searching the desert for the Promised Land, Israel. When they finally found it, the scouts that Moses had sent out came back bearing different responses. Many believed that the inhabitants were far too prepared to destroy the Israelites but two of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, believed that with the power of God on their side, the Israelites had no reason to fear the inhabitants. As Moses spoke to God, God could not understand why the Israelites refused to trust him, to which Moses responded: “Therefore, let it be as You once uttered it, God, ‘The Lord, slow to anger, abundant in kindness; Forgiver of iniquity and transgression…Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to Your great kindness, as You have forgiven this people ever since Egypt,” a quote that, to me, seems eerily similar to the line in the Oneida Chief’s Speech “We are slow to condemn, yet fast to forgive, and thus have succeeded in all our endeavors.”
The entire portion focuses mainly on one theme: Pessimism vs. Optimism, and how pessimism holds people back from attaining incredible things. At times, I feel like pessimism can be prevalent even at Kawaga. We see a league game, or an assignment, or hear an EP, and just automatically default to the idea that it will be terrible. I am a victim of this myself. During my CIT summer, as I prepared for camp, I realized that I would be going on Boundaries. I hate being confined and the thought of being stuck on a canoe for eight hours a day and then following it up with sleeping in a stuffy tent for six straight days was horrifying. Obviously, I was still going to go but my brain quickly went to the idea that I was going to hate Boundaries. That being said, I of course went but struggled, as I expected. At the end, however, and looking back on it while I wrote this sermon, I realized that my pessimism was, to some degree, what dragged me down during the trip. Unlike Moses, I wouldn’t say I had the power of God on my side while I canoed through the Boundary Waters, but I did have an entire group of seven of my CIT brothers and two counselors I happened to be close with. I was already close with all of them, but the trip only intensified our friendships. I learned things about my friends that I never could have predicted. I gained valuable insights on countless topics from our counselor chaperones, Bradley “Husky” Leshem and Alastair Babington, on things such as camp life, how to be a good staff member, academics, and future career insight. The conversations we shared while sitting around a campfire as the stars that engulfed the Boundary Water skies still resonate with me today.
Like Moses, we wandered the Boundary Waters, looking for the promised parking lot that would take us back to camp, but as the trip dragged on, and the closer we got to that goal, the less I wanted to leave. If I could go back in a time machine to one place, I would return to my CIT year, and I guarantee that many of the staff here would agree with me. CITs, you have an incredible opportunity in front of you. I urge you not to give in to pessimism and do not begin the trip hoping for it to end earlier. You will never get another opportunity like this. For you campers who aren’t CITs, although you aren’t going on Boundaries, please use the time you have left in camp wisely, because I promise, eventually, you will sit in the back of this room, or perhaps even in my position, wishing you could return to these benches for one more Saturday as a camper.
Kawaga holds us to a higher standard, a standard that sets Kawaga apart from other camps. The four pillars all unite to teach us to be leaders. Adages and excerpts that we hear on a daily basis instruct us to Be Kawaga, a quote that may seem cliché, but is an amalgamation of the infinite values that camp instills within us from an early age. It is an easier way of explaining how Kawaga creates leaders through the four pillars and exemplifies the importance of places like Kawaga today in many people’s lives. Please do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of complacency. Lead from the front and give all you can to Kawaga, and I promise, you will never want to leave because one day, like my father, you will sit at home, summer after summer, reminiscing on the days you had here. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.