For three weeks, approximately 160 of us –campers, staff and rabbis– lived together as a community in the south west of France. Although we came from several different countries; we ate prayed, played and learned together.
Imagine rolling hills filled with vineyards and fields overflowing with sunflowers. Can you hear voices singing and praying in French and Hebrew and English? This was MahaNetzer 2018!
How terrific to hear all these voices. How wonderful to see all the creative activities. How thrilling to experience the energy of liberal Judaism in France. There is nothing more special than joining in song and motion as we prayed each morning under a beautiful blue sky, in an open field. The older campers were models to the younger and the younger campers, in return, brought smiles and laughter to all of us. We studied Torah, learned Hebrew, played basketball, camped, cooked, biked, sang, danced, played instruments and engaged in an array of beautiful arts.
A highlight of the summer, for me, revolved around the Sefer Torah of the camp which has been read since the camp’s founding, five years ago. This year Bastille Day occurred on Shabbat. Rabbi Cohen took the opportunity to share the unique story of the MahaNetzer scroll. Rescued, as are so many of our Torah scrolls today, this scroll was given to Rabbi Cohen by Rabbi Charles Liché, rabbin des déportés, who organized summer camps for displaced post-war Jewish children. The camp’s physician was coincidently Rabbi Bebe’s father. The scroll itself is wrapped in a patriotic wimple dated 1892, twenty-two years into the German occupation of Alsace-Lorraine. The wimple is decorated with the French tri-color flag. Jews have often use wimples (Torah binders) and other Torah adornments, like crowns and breastplates, to make contemporary cultural statements. Here, French patriotism in a time of occupation, was the theme for a scroll that later survived the Sho’a and then served refugee children. Now it is a beloved treasure of MahaNetzer.
Each camp day was filled with teaching, learning and engagement. There were opportunities for reflection and challenge, for rest and renewal. New friendships were formed and older ones renewed. Moments like these are rare in life but common at MahaNetzer where our ancient tradition finds modern French expression.
MahaNetzer 2018 campers were fortunate to share these opportunities. On the day before MahaNetzer ended, as they packed and cleaned, one could hear the campers humming camp melodies and talking about being together again, next year, at MahaNetzer 2019.
Au revoir et à l’année prochaine – See you next year!