It was at Noam pre-Camp earlier this week. For anyone who doesn’t know, Noam is the Masorti Jewish youth movement. Pre-camp is the week of planning, study, reflection, prayer – and fun – when all leaders, from those who’ll look after a small group of children for the first time to those in charge for an entire camp of teenagers, prepare for the joys, challenges, responsibilities and unforeseeable faux pas of the fortnight ahead. Noam is a movement for young people, led by young people. Though there are ‘adults’ present to offer support (if needed and wanted), none of the leaders is above his or her mid-twenties.
To be there as one of the ‘older’ rabbis is a privilege, not only because it is exciting and moving to witness the special pre-camp energy and the culture of deep thoughtfulness among so many young people, but because even a rabbi is there as a ‘guest’, welcome, but by invitation.
After an eventful journey including two hours plus in a stationery train in the heat with no power, no air circulation, and no openable windows, (a potentially lethal design flaw), I got to the camp just before midnight. Wandering around, I caught phrases of conversations almost all of which were about how to care – for each other, for younger children, for those who might feel homesick or bewildered.
Next day there were two sessions on Jewish sources about looking after one another. I saw the group from the distance, discussing quietly in a circle. Even from far, one senses when a truly thoughtful conversation is taking place.
Pre-camp has always been special, but what’s recently grown year by year is the enthusiasm and energy around Jewish learning. It’s not just the great young rabbis, key as they all are; it’s a re-energised awareness that learning matters, that Judaism has plenty to say – about inclusion, social justice, environment, life…
My own session was on loving-kindness towards nature, and animal rights. Remarkably, the group reckoned 50% of their friends were vegetarian and 20% vegan.
I am proud that Noam launched its new Eco-Policy that very day. It includes the following commitments:
- We will promote and educate around vegan and vegetarian diets and the impact of meat and dairy reduction on the environment.
- We will advocate for yearly pledges from our members to reduce their environmental impacts.
- We will take groups to climate marches…and use social media to campaign and raise awareness of climate emergencies.
Here at pre-camp are over a hundred highly motivated young people, determined that their lives should be driven and guided by learning and values. What more can one ask?
My conclusion is not simply, though, that the older should learn from the younger. I know many people, perhaps especially among the half generation above me, who have passionate, life-long commitments to social justice, anti-racism, and fighting for human rights.
Our best hope for the future lies in generations working together, listening to and learning from each other, bound by common concerns and united in shared actions.
Little is so powerful in Judaism as the commandment to teach our children. But how can we teach them if we aren’t also ready to learn from them? And what is the point of teaching them, if we don’t leave them a world fit and beautiful for living in?