Standing here today has a lot of meaning for me. On this very spot almost 30 years ago, my dad became a bar mitzvah. So much has changed since then and yet… so much has stayed the same. For instance, the Knicks were terrible then and they sure are terrible now. But seriously, while I know today will bring back a lot of memories for my family, the prayers I have learned trigger lots of memories for me. Strangely, one has to do with camp.
We just chanted a prayer where the Torah is called a “tree of life.” Why is it called a tree? Trees protect us, nurture us, provide fruit and oxygen – we really would not be alive without trees. Similarly, the torah provides us with spiritual nourishment.
So it reminded me of camp. Every week we sit in a circle around a campfire and do what my camp friends like to call shenanigans, crazy things like catching eggs tossed over the fire, or doing a camp wide Harlem shake. By the way, speaking of camp fires, this weekend is Lag B’Omer, a Jewish holiday that is marked by huge bonfires, especially in Israel. In my opinion, it’s the closest the Jewish calendar comes to being like camp.
So, while the torah is a tree of life, at camp we have the Tree of Values, which are Enthusiasm, Loyalty, Sportsmanship, Friendship, Achievement and Cooperation. Every Sunday at our camp fire, two campers, who during the prior week demonstrated each value, get nominated for the award . I am proud to say thus far during my camp Winaukee career, I’ve been named on the tree every year.
My Torah portion also talks about trees – twice. If we follow the commandments, and do the right things, trees will give us fruit. And if we don’t, they won’t.
Now, I don’t believe that the Torah is teaching us that if you do good deeds, you are rewarded and if you bad things you are punished. I’ve seen too many kind people who suffer unnecessarily. Personally, I know that I did not deserve having two oral surgeries in the past few years. Also, the special needs kids I work with at Friendship Circle do not deserve their challenges. Or the underprivileged kids at Casa Verde Home of Hope in Medellin, Colombia. My family has been supporting Casa Verde for as long as I have been alive, and I am proud now to be doing my part, by featuring Casa Verde as my bar mitzvah project. Combining my love for basketball and Casa Verde, I gathered up my closest friends and family. I selected those who were good free throw shooters for the free throw fundraiser (sorry mom that is the real reason why you were not chosen). To date, we have raised $2,965 dollars. Those of you that are staying for the kiddush, will notice the branches and photos on the table which tie together my love for Casa Verde.
So we’ve talked about a tree of life and we’ve talked about a tree of values , there is a third type of tree that is the most important to me– my family tree. Not only did my dad become a bar mitzvah right here on this very bimah, but so did my Aunt Pam. And my grandparents and great grandparents have set down deep roots here. I am so proud to become part of that legacy.
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