Va’etchanan: Whitney Houston, Camp, and Building our Future

Part of an ongoing series that explores Torah through an ethic of social justice and building a world worthy of the Divine

(the waterfront at URJ Camp George at sunset, pic by Rabbi Dara Lithwick).

At my first summer of sleep away camp, back in 1986, boom boxes and big shoulders were all the rage, and Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” was on the airwaves. As an eight year old first time camper I didn’t think much about the opening stanza, but now, some 37 years later (oy!), I think about it a lot:

I believe the children are our futureTeach them well and let them lead the wayShow them all the beauty they possess insideGive them a sense of pride to make it easierLet the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.

As I write this I am back at summer camp, serving as rabbinic faculty at URJ Camp George (a couple of hours north of Toronto), and my kids are having menucha (rest period) in their cabins. Other than the few of us here who are north of 30 years old, the camp is indeed a place where the children not only are our future, but our present.

This week’s parsha, Va’etchanan, contains major highlights in our canon – the repetition (with some slight differences) of the Ten Commandments, and the Shema and Ve’havta (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). We are called to shema, to listen, to hear, to hearken, and we are called to v’ahavta – to love. And we are told we must teach all of this to our children and talk to them about it (v’shinantam l’vanecha v’dibarta bam), when we lie down and when we rise up.

I believe the children are our futureTeach them well and let them lead the wayShow them all the beauty they possess inside

Here at camp we are in an inclusive, Jewish, immersive environment. We are teaching and talking and singing with our children about what it means to be Jewish and to care for each other and for our world. And we are doing this because we know that they are our future. And we also know that they are our present. As much as we can teach, there is so much to learn from our youth in terms of what is important, about what we should care about, about where our world is going.

As we build for the future, how do we model empowering our youth- giving them that sense of pride? Guiding our youth? Loving and teaching through love? And remembering to laugh through it all?

Are we listening? Are we learning?

Shabbat shalom u mevorach from camp.

Rabbi Dara Lithwick, the lead builder at Builders Blog, is an advocate for LGBTQ2+ inclusion. When not at work as a constitutional and parliamentary affairs lawyer, Rabbi Dara chairs the Reform Jewish Community of Canada’s Tikkun Olam Steering Committee and is active at Temple Israel Ottawa, and in the winter serves as ski patrol at Sommet Edelweiss. She is a member of Bayit’s Board of Directors.