Last week, Rabbi Sara and I went to camp. In so many ways, it was like summer camp that I attended as a child: campfires, songs, hikes, swimming (and some Judaism – I went to a Jewish overnight camp). Camp was always one of the most accepting places I went to. Away from home, away from parents, teachers, and so many of the expectations forced on us, camp was full of people being themselves, and being celebrated for it.
All the more so, was our summer camp experience this year. The camp we attended was SVARA’s Queer Talmud Camp. SVARA’s mission “is to provide serious Talmud study as a spiritual practice to all who want to learn, in an environment that recognizes as crucial the insights of transgender, intersex, queer, lesbian, bisexual and gay Jews.” People came there from all over the country. For various reasons, many of them had never been able to study Talmud before. But at this camp, they were able to come together and study and do so in a robust, and exciting manner.
The scholarship alone was incredible. I brought home a model of engaging, dynamic, and accessible Talmud study, and Rabbi Sara and I are excited to introduce it to the congregation. More importantly, though, I witnessed what it means to truly create an open and welcoming space. In the Reform movement, we talk about “audacious hospitality,” this difficult idea of welcoming and caring for everyone who comes into the community.
Audacious hospitality is as hard to truly define as it is to actually do it. SVARA succeeded in exceeding all of my understanding when it comes to welcome. There was no judgment. Not over who anyone was. Not over what they had to offer as a scholar. Everyone was a scholar, everyone had something to offer, and everyone was welcome. And that such an affirming and safe space also saw people literally and figuratively taking ownership of our sacred texts, made it even more incredible.
There are many lessons from Camp that I hope to bring to Temple Sinai. Included in those are efforts at true welcome, in order that we can truly live up to our prayer, “May the door of this synagogue be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for friendship.”Growing up, camp was an important piece of forming my Jewish identity. Queer Talmud Camp offers the same for its campers (including myself) and I hope that it can give to even more of us as well.
Rabbi Benjamin Zober