Tisha B'av, Yom Ha'shoah, and Jewish Memory at Tel Yehudah

One of the most difficult scheduling challenges at Tel Yehudah (and many other Jewish camps) is the commemoration of Tisha B'av (the 9th of Av) which usually falls toward the end of the first session or the beginning of the second.  Tisha B'av, a deeply sad day on the Jewish calendar, marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as more recent calamities in Jewish history including the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the subsequent deportation of its inhabitants to Treblinka.  So in the midst of a summer filled with joy and celebration at camp, we take a day to solemnly commemorate our darkest days as a people starting with a deeply moving tekes including readings, song, dance, video, photographs, fire and silence.  Chanichim spend the next day participating in various peulot or watching films or having discussions reflective of the traditional and more current themes of the day.  Many of our campers, who would otherwise never observe this day at home, fast throughout the day as is the tradition of Tisha B'av. For the overwhelming majority of our campers today and for alumni throughout TY's history, Tisha B'av is remembered as a moving and powerful day of Jewish memory. And even though it "interrupts" the fun of summer, TY campers throughout the decades remember so well this day at camp and its accompanying emotions and learning.

One TY alum blogger writes:

One of the most indelibly etched memories from my camping experience. In the evening as dusk approached, the 200-some teenage campers and staff would congregate at the doors of the "Beit Ha'Am" [literally "House of People"] the cavernous, wooden hall used for all assemblies, plays, dances and indoor basketball games. Inside, the staff would have already set up the hall with dozens and dozens of white candles, lit and melted to the floor. Passing through the doors to the Beit Ha'Am, you would receive a much used photocopied set of papers -- the book of Lamentations -- and you would slowly file in and form small groups around the candles. And for the next, almost 2 hours, the entire camp assemblage would sit on the dusty wood floor of the Beit Ha'Am, lit only by candlelight, and read and chant and sing the mournful poetry of prayers traditional on this day.

Read more via I know this is probably bad for me.

I remember when I was a chanich at TY many years ago, my madrich explaining to me that Tisha B'av and Hannukah were like ying and yang.  Tisha B'av - the darkest day in our history - falls close to the lightest time of the year. In the midst of the joy and hope and celebration of summer, we stop to remember that darkness which has befallen us as a people. And Hannukah - a day of great light and hope - falls closest to the darkest day of the year.  In our darkest time we are filled with hope and faith.

Today, Yom Hashoah, is also one of the darkest days in our history.  Even though our great festival of freedom, Pesach,  ended less than a week ago, we are once again reminded of the tenuousness of that freedom in our people's history.  Many of us today are attending commemorations, vigils, and interfaith services marking the Holocaust and remembering the slaughter of over 11 million lives including 6 million Jews and the destruction of a once vibrant Eastern European Jewish world.

At Tel Yehudah this summer we will once again remember and commemorate our painful history and our great losses. And we will not only do it on Tisha B'av during second session but also during our recently created Erev Zikaron (Evening of Remembrance) during first session.  And we do this twice a summer because it is clear to us that it is only with this memory that we can fully celebrate the joys of being a "free people in our own land" (in Israel and Barryville) and work with great energy to ensure that "Never Again" is more than a slogan.

David Weinstein

Director, Camp Tel Yehudah

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