This summer we had the opportunity to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah to one chanicha (camper) and 3 madrichot (counselors) here at TY! Throughout the session they explored the meaning of the ceremony and learned how to read the Torah. TY's community came together to hear them give their Bat Mitzvah speeches and celebrate this special moment.
My name is Sveta, I’m a counselor in bunk 2B.
I was born in Ukraine. My father was Jewish and my mother was a secular Christian. As a teenager, I went to a Sunday school run by the Jewish Agency and learned about Israel and Judaism. At age 14, I decided to come to Israel by myself and an Israeli family became my host family.
I went to the army at age 19 and got an opportunity to convert to Judaism according to the Halacha, the Jewish law. For 7 months, I studied and had personal Jewish experiences to prepare me for the conversion. As you know, in Israel, all conversion are orthodox, so this was not easy. This conversion process was the most meaningful and difficult of my whole life, even more than my Aliya to Israel. I learned not only about my Judaism, but also myself, my priorities in life, my values, and which kind of person I want to be. I believe that everything in life has a reason, and I feel like God directed me to Judaism in Israel because he believe in me. My host family chose the name Tal Or as my hebrew name because “Or” means light and the meaning of Svetlana is bright or light, and Tal sounds like the “TL” of Svetlana.
Since I became Jewish at age 19, I never had a chance to have a Bat Mitzvah, which is supposed to be at age 12. So, this opportunity at camp seemed like my chance to do this amazing ritual myself. This is a way to show my commitment to the Jewish community.
This week’s parsha is Re’eh. In it, Moses tells the people that Hashem will bless them if they follow the mitzvot, or commandments, and will punish or curse them if they go against them. My question is if curses really exist and, if so, what do they mean. Many people believe that if G-d is real than evil couldn’t exist in the world. Take a second to think about that for yourselves…
In my opinion, whether something is a curse or a blessing depends on your perspective. Bad things happen to everyone, and it’s up to us to decide whether the glass is half empty or half full. We have the choice to decide if obstacles in our life are indeed true curses or lessons that can help us learn and grow. I know a lot of people who, when they don’t get exactly what they want right away, they get mad and frustrated and say that god doesn’t exist. I believe that in this world of instant gratification, what is really important is patience. You will understand that what may seem like a curse or a bad thing at first, is really a lesson that helps you learn and grow after you take the time to reflect and see the whole picture. After becoming a Bat Mitzvah, I will try my hardest to live my life in this way-- to see that everything happens for a reason. All we need is to trust ourselves and trust god that everything will be okay. הכל יהיה בסדר.
My name is Nicole Rothstein from bunk 3B. This is my first year at camp, and prior to coming to TY, the only experiences I had with Judaism were religious ones, like fasting on Yom Kippur. To be honest, I never really felt connected to these religious practices in any way. After coming to camp, I saw all the different aspects of being Jewish, including the culture, the connection to Israel, and of course the community. These aspects are not connected to religion or the belief in God.
I was originally hesitant to have this Bat Mitzvah due to the fact that I didn’t realize that there was more to my Jewish identity. But now, I feel that being Jewish is about the community, or kehila, and becoming a Bat Mitzvah means that I’m becoming an official part of the Jewish community.
“Bat” means daughter or woman and “Mitzvah” means commandment, so as a Bat Mitzvah, I am now responsible for taking on Jewish practices and values. For example, helping the environment. In Hebrew, “Bal Tash’chit” means not being wasteful and protecting the environment. I went backpacking in Harriman State Park for my intensive and those four days among trees, lakes, and stars really showed me why protecting these areas is vital. Whenever I practice “Bal Tashchit” by not wasting anything and caring about the environment, I will remember the beauty I saw on my trip.
A second Jewish value that resonates with me is to treat others the way you would like to be treated or “ve’ahavta le’re’echa ka’mocha”. This is a lot easier said than done, but I can start small by holding doors open for people, smiling at strangers, and not gossiping about others behind their backs. On the hiking trip, we ran into a man hiking alone and when I found out he had no water, I decided to give him my own water. Although some people might not think much of this, I feel like I was practicing this Jewish value because I would have wanted someone else to do the same for me if I were in his shoes.
I would like to say thank you to a few people who made this possible. Thank you Jacob for leading this class; I appreciated how patient and understanding you were with me. Thank you Talia, Tom, and Daniel for leading the intensive trip, my bunk for supporting me, and my counselors for being amazing. And thanks to TY for making this all possible. You have made being Jewish real to me.
My name is Ira and I am a counselor for bunk 3A in Bet. I was born in Russia and I live in St. Petersburg. I found out I was Jewish when I was 17 years old, when my grandmother told me about an opportunity to go to Israel for Jewish teens. I started identifying as Jewish at age 19 when I started working at youth Jewish camps run by JAFI, the Jewish Agency for Israel. As an educator, I had to teach the kids about Jewish values, history, Jewish heroes and personalities. When planning the activities for the kids, I began doing my own personal journey of finding my Jewish identity, which is a part of me that is very important but not fully developed. Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is an important step in this odyssey.
Very often, we may think that certain values are universal and don’t think they’re coming from the Jewish tradition. However, in this week’s parsha “Re’eh”, we are taught that each of us has free will or “bechira chofshit”-- the freedom to choose our actions. The consequences of our decisions could be a blessing or a curse, and that depends on our attitude toward things and the way we react.
This relates to another Jewish value called “B’tzelem Elohim”, which means that each person was created in the image of God, and must be treated accordingly. I think this means that it’s important to learn how to accept people the way they are, especially those who are different from me. People can have different experiences and different opinions on a topic, and it’s my job to be patient with them and show them respect, even if I disagree.
I originally learned to treat others the way I wanted to be treated in school, and for me, this is a must-have. Kindness, politeness, and a smile are inseparable parts of who I am, but it’s much more difficult to learn not to make judgments of other people’s behaviors and overanalyze a situation. At this camp, there are many obstacles that I face, but I will try my best to apply “B’tzelem Elohim” and respect everyone’s differences. I will live with my eyes open and keep in mind that everything happens for a reason and is not a coincidence.
If we want to make a difference, we should start with ourselves, and here at TY, a camp with hundreds of people of different cultural, national, and personal differences, is an excellent starting point.