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Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Shabbat, 24th July 2009
3rd Av 5769
 

Dear Community,

I’m sitting in the Chadar Ochel, the dining room, at Noam pre-Camp and I haven’t even completed my first sentence before loud and joyful bensching breaks out. It’s wonderful to be here.
 
It’s wonderful to be here! There’s the scenery, - last night on a just-before-midnight walk I listened to an owl and, for the first time in years, saw a baby hedgehog. The Menai Straits glimmered, with the black shadow of the mountains of Snowdonia behind them. But I have to say, lover of nature as I am, that the glory of the view almost seems like the secondary phenomenon, compared with how great pre-camp is.
 
In case you don’t know, let me say a few words about this. Pre-camp is far more than the time and place where almost two hundred young leaders prepare their programmes for camp, where they will look after some 600 of our delightful children for two happy, action and debate-packed, sleep-deprived, utterly exhausting weeks. Pre-camp is Noam at its most intense and excellent; pre-camp is the most brilliant and remarkable form of Jewish life. It inspires, guides, challenges and teaches young people at every level, in a peer-led culture which simply cannot be equalled.
 
First of all there is the friendliness. There is an atmosphere here of openness, welcome, nurture and participation. This is, in the deepest sense, an education about how to be community; how to think, feel and work creatively together, how to be sensitive to the needs, talents and potential contribution of every individual.
 
Developing within this environment is an intense and engaged culture of Jewish debate. Over the years this discussion has become increasingly well informed. One feels the impact of the fresh emphasis on serious Jewish learning. (Sorry, it’s a little distracting here: someone is doing a take-off of the Jeremy Kyle show) Several people have spent time at the Conservative Yeshivah. There is an eagerness for accessing traditional Jewish sources. The hot topic this year is the relationship between choice and obligation in following Jewish law. The quality of discussion is sharply articulate and deeply impassioned. This is not just ‘argument for the sake of heaven’ but a model of how it can be done.
 
Then there is the prayer life of the Noam community. Over the years I’ve experienced the change from ‘just fun’ melodies to niggunim and singing which truly stirs the spirit. There’s a beautiful new Noam Siddur this year. There are moments when there’s a true quiet, a quality of real inwardness to prayer.
 
That’s why this isn’t ‘just pre-camp’; rather, it’s a form of culture, traditional Jewish culture striving towards its best.
 
We have a lot to be grateful for!
 
Shabbat Shalom
 
Jonathan Wittenberg