Inspire us to act
With extraordinary courage in the midst of ordinary times
With ordinary goodness in the face of extraordinary crisis
And with unbounded imagination that dares to risk the possibility of hope. Teach us, help us, and inspire us
To listen, to remember, and to act
And never to quit.
-Rabbi Brant Rosen
This summer our sister camp, URJ Camp Coleman, lovingly created a special Tallit (prayer shawl) for each of the 17 URJ Camps in memory of Alyssa Alhadeff (z”l). Camp Coleman has been among those at the center of care and compassion for those affected by the Parkland, FL tragedy, most notably their camper, Alyssa’s, family and friends. Campers at Coleman worked on these Tallitot under the supervision of Grace Sherman, Coleman’s gifted Arts Instructor. It was the intention that camps would use each Tallit to create a teachable moment on Shabbat with their camp community to lift up what it means to be a Kehillah Kedoshah (sacred community.)
At the conclusion of the summer, the 17 Tallitot will be returned to Coleman, so that the Coleman community can present them to the two URJ congregations who were most affected by the Parkland tragedy (Kol Tikvah in Parkland and Beth Orr in Coral Springs.) During the holidays, the congregations will call up all of the young people affected by Parkland. They will be wrapped in the 17 Tallitot representing every URJ Camp and the spirit of thousands of campers from across North America will provide comfort to all those striving to heal and recover.
On Saturday, Casey S. a current Gesher (CIT) participant and Parkland student, presented Camp Harlam with the Tallit from Coleman. Casey’s words were as follows:
“Camp has always been my happy place. The place where I met my best friends, the place that helped me start to figure out who I am and who I want to be, and the place that I call home. Camp has allowed me to be both the best form of myself, and the truest. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Casey. I’m from Parkland, Florida, and I attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the school infamously known for the violent events that occurred there on February 14, 2018. After that day, my community grew closer, because we now shared a bond like no other. While this bond unified us, it separated us from other communities outside of our own. I was worried to come to camp this summer because I wasn’t sure how being so far away from home would affect me. At home, I knew I was surrounded by people who instantly understood every emotion I was feeling based off of a look or a gesture. I was scared to spend two months in a place I hadn’t been to in two years, with people I hadn’t spent every day with since February 14th. Nevertheless, I tried to keep an open mind and have confidence in my ability to navigate the ups and downs my emotions would present. I struggled a lot over the course of the past few months, and I am still struggling now.
But, since I arrived back at camp, I have been shown nothing but love and compassion. The friends who texted me every day after the shooting to check in, stand right by my side as I move through each day. The friends who just couldn’t find the right words to say, hold my hand, lay with me, and give me a shoulder to cry on. It doesn’t matter whether they understand what I am going through or not. What matters is that they are there. One of the best things about camp is a pure joy that fills each day that we all spend together. Even things as simple as stargazing, big cuddles, and deep late night talks evoke feelings of utter contentment and gratitude. I’ve been reminded of the importance to live in the moment and embrace all that life has to offer. Because you only get one chance at life and I strongly believe in the need to make the most of the time we have been given.
To the Gesher program participants and leaders, my sister, and everyone else here at camp who has helped me push through my tougher days, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being there for me whether it be just to talk or offer a hug. Your support is tremendous, and I am incredibly grateful. And to my campers, thank you for reminding me with your innocence, joy, and pure love for one another, that there is hope for a brighter future.
We have been gifted a Tallit from Camp Coleman, the home away from home to one of the classmates my peers and I lost, Alyssa Alhadeff. During the Mourner’s Kaddish we say Oseh Shalom, at which point this Tallit will be presented before all of you as not only a show of support for gun violence prevention efforts, but also as a symbol of the care and compassion that lives in communities such as Harlam, Coleman, and Parkland.
I ask that you all keep the 17 classmates that my community lost in your prayers as we join together in the Mourner’s Kaddish, not only to honor their deaths, but also to celebrate their lives. Thank you.”