If you have read my previous blog post, you know that Makom Community fills a special place in my heart. My childhood lacked a community like that which Makom provides. I see the way our kiddos interact with their grownups, their educators, the world at large, and I can’t help but stand in awe. It is such an honor to share my days with such wise, kind and welcoming young people. Having known this, taking part in the retreat in New Hope showed me, again, just how much we all collaborate to create our wonderful community, by bringing our authentic selves. Mah tovu! (Oh how good!) Everyone plays their part in making our place a great place to be.
This past Sukkot I had the privilege of witnessing just how impactful this makom is. This family Shabbat/Sukkot retreat was a long time coming. Our Director of Education and Learning, Amanda Hollander, started planning it a year in advance. In her preparation, she scoured her resources for a place befitting of our makom. I think it’s safe to say, she went above and beyond. Just look at how beautiful our home away from home was! Our Camp Coordinator, Ash Fisher-Tannenbaum, hit the ground running to plan a fulfilling educational and programmatic weekend we would all enjoy. And as per usual, they did just that. Our weekend was jam-packed with moments of connection within families, within the staff, between kiddos, and between staff and families. I feel confident that everyone left the retreat feeling lighter than when they arrived, with new and reinforced ties.
Thanks to the collective effort of my colleagues there was good food and good times to be had by all. We started off the weekend with a collective brush and lock candle lighting. This gave everyone the opportunity to reflect on the past week, considering what we’d like to take away and leave behind. We had a delicious warm dinner under the stars beside our sukkah. Then it was time for grownup shmoozing and playtime for the kiddos. The kids tired themselves out in an invigorating game of Night in the Sukkah (otherwise known as Night in the Museum) before trailing off to bed.
Saturday was busy and blissful. We started the day with a heartwarming Torah service where one of our very own Anafim kiddos read the Torah. In that same service, another kiddo in Nitzanim (3rd & 4th grade) announced their Hebrew name. Afterwards, the Anafim kvutzah (5th-7th grade) led everyone in a text study detailing Avram’s brit (two-way promise) with God. In my text study group we found ourselves drawn to the word ‘makom’. The text implied that makom refers to a holy place in which God is present. This led us to discuss what makes a place holy. In my mind, the entire weekend was a practice in makom making. By coming together in a beautiful place to simply engage and experience, we were creating something ineffable. It feels aspirational, to truly define the word ‘makom’. To keep it simple, a makom is a home. It is a safe space, a sanctuary, a place for connection. And it is created by making space to listen, learn, live and be present together.
In my opinion, this discussion set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Saturday was full of opportunities for joy and fun. The family Maccabiah games fortified the pre-existing connections within families and plowed the way for new familiarity. For instance, I witnessed families banter and jest while building at my miniature sukkah building station. I saw families encourage and praise their competitors, and how this, in turn, strengthened their own teamwork. Later, we bid farewell to Shabbat in a melodious havdalah ceremony. I remember standing with everyone beneath the clear night sky with only the candlelight to brighten our faces and feeling effortlessly lifted. I felt the air grow still amongst the crooning of our collective voices, all eyes fixed on the flames. This was makom. And as we all settled around the bonfire to end the day, I felt this energy stabilize. We were present. We were all there together. There was no post-Shabbat phone catch-up or mental vacation. We remained with each other until the last ember burned, and even after as we all cleaned up the park. Even as the last car crunched its tires on the gravel road, bidding Deer Park shalom, the makom remained. It was then that I realized we had brought it with us. We took it back home and it’s with us now. It always is.