Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What do you get when you mix 7 teenagers, 8 of their parents, 7 Jewish educators and a bunch of goats?
Jewish Milestones and Storahtelling’s first Bnai Mitzvah Family Camp!

Blogger: Jacob Wiese of Houston, TX, age 12
Edited: Storahtelling Bnai Mitzvah Family Camp facilitators – Amichai Lau-Lavie, Sarah Sokolic, Shoshana Jedwab and Tehilah Eisenstadt

It was an unusually cool August in Connecticut as families from TX, PA NY and NJ gathered to spend a week immersed in ritual performance, Torah, rites of passage, learning from wisdom culled by countless years and hours in “the biz.” Jewish Milestones ( brought Storahtelling to play and explore with five fabulously different families. Playing and exploration happened with parents and children together, as well as in separate cohorts of parents and children. There was also time for serious reflection and planning as individual families spent one on one time with Jewish Milestones and Storahtelling educators and facilitators.

The week, as all summer weeks can be, was both long and way too short. The talents, experiences, backgrounds and life stories participants shared with us were varied and brought a rich texture out of the texts and into our conversations and performances. While we wish we could share all of this with you we can share one of the most important lessons that parents, Bnai Mitzvah students and facilitators quickly learned: “brevity is the soul of wit” (Shakespeare, Hamlet) and wit dat here’s a brief reflection on the week from Jacob Wiese of Houston, TX, age 12:

“I liked the Shema exercise because it empowered me to think about the Shema in a new way. I didn't know that there were so many translations for a prayer that I have said every night of my life.”

Jacob’s favorite translation of the Shema is: "Listen up, our God is speaking, I am your only God." Jacob, like his fellow Bnai Mitzvah Family Camp participants, had a lot of fun and exuded a lot of energy at our first, late night, Shema learning session (parents let the kids stay up ‘til 10!). The translation Jacob shares above was not the only one, in fact it was not Jacob’s only Shema translation that evening, but this favorite translation choice comes out of the larger learning that Bnai Mitzvah families engaged in as they grappled with the constant tension of making Torah and Jewish ritual fun but still true to ancient understandings.

Of course Family Camp was not all fun and games with text, Jacob also notes that he really “liked the ropes course,” an experiential excursion set out in the wilds of Isabella Freedman where Jewish Milestones set up opportunities for younger participants to strike out on their own. Natural leadership skills were expressed, honed and celebrated while teamwork grew, faltered, regained momentum and flowered over hours of complicated exercises. Jacob, with a newly bandaged wrist (from a non-text related incident) was cared for by the group as they tried navigated difficult physical feats.

Jacob’s week at Isabella Freedman, with Jewish Milestones and Storahtelling at Elat Chayyim, was a place where he learned new skills and looks forward to making the different components of his upcoming Bar Mitzvah “more interesting.”

We wish Jacob and his fellow Bnai Mitzvah travelers a hearty Yasher Koach, great job, and keep up the good hard work! Jewish Milestones and Storahtelling look forward to being in touch, helping families speak about and stay true to the paths they’ve begun towards, and beyond, their Bnai Mitzvah experiences.

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