by Sophie Vener

In synagogue seats around the world, Jews pray Nisim B’kol Yom, “the daily miracles.” The first line of the prayer, “Asher natan lsachvi binah lehavin bayn yom obayn lilah,” is translated in our prayer books as, ” You have implanted mind and instinct within every living being” – but the direct translation of this prayer is actually, “You give the rooster understanding between night and day.” What a difference! Do you think a Talmud-studying rebbe wrote this prayer? No! A farmer wrote it!

The daily miracles prayer that we read once we have already had a cup of coffee and driven 20 minutes to get to synagogue were actually intended to be recited while getting out of bed. When we praise God for helping the blind to see, clothing the naked, and making our steps firm, we aren’t talking about metaphor. This prayer is literally giving gratitude for opening our eyes in the morning, providing us with clothing and our ability to use our legs to get out of bed. Our society places tremendous value on our brains, and mostly only on one side.

Praying for Connection

Sophie Vener, second from right, with others at Kibbutz Yarok

We sit in temple and read, discuss, and learn about the incredible, ecstatic experiences recorded in the psalms, in which the rivers clap their hands and the mountains sing. Our forefathers and mothers experienced these things with their whole bodies, whereas we sit in rooms lit by fluorescent lights and talk about it. Thank HaShem we have camp, a place where we can live our ancient prayers and embody our Judaism.

Kibbutz Yarok is an ecological campsite dotted with oak trees and nestled in a pine valley one mile from the main campus of URJ Camp Newman. This year marks the first summer in which “Avodahniks,” rising juniors in high school, lived on the land in two 25’-tall tipis. Each morning, the youth rose to the sound of the shofar blast, a signal to convene in the painted stone circle in the chicken yard deemed the morning celebration circle. After a silent stretching routine, we engaged in morning prayer, and when we said Nisim B’kol Yom, we were truly thanking the chickens (who by this point in the morning, were squawking so loudly that they were let out of the coop to free-range for their breakfast immediately following prayer). One of the traditions of morning celebration was an impassioned Nisim B’kol Yom, complete with a rockin’ melody, dance moves and impromptu prayers in which each Avodahnik gave thanks for something that began with a different letter of the alphabet. On a Jewish farm, we prayed for our friends in the circle, the garden that brings us food, the land we now call home, and xylophones – praying for the here and now, to a God that could hear and feel our effort to connect to the moment, and who would thank us for showing up. Praying together at the kibbutz, we felt connected, deeply Jewish, and alive.

Life is about feeling connected. Judaism is the lens that we have inherited with which to see the interconnectedness of our universe. This connection is what gives us purpose, without which we feel lost, isolated, and alone. Kibbutz Yarok and camp at large are spaces in which we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to connect; we are able to be held and to hold space for true holy community. In Hebrew, the word for tree is etz and the word for advisor is etzah – it is in nature that we find our answers and achieve connection. The Hebrews became a people while wondering in the desert, and our ancestors were farmers whose Judaism followed the rhythm of the seasons and praised God for the rain, the sun, and the moon. It is all there: Our books are overflowing with our connection to the natural world, and it is up to us to go outside and see for ourselves.

I am not asking you to flee the suburbs for the Sonoma county countryside or to trade your SUV for pick-up truck (as ideal as that would be). The idea here is that it is not enough to just teach what Judaism is to our children; we also need to celebrate and live Judaism. We are able to achieve this at camp, and I invite you to take that spirit into your world at home. When we worship in the natural world, we create opportunities for connection. We need this, our families need this, and our world needs this.

Sophie Vener is the Kibbutz Program Coordinator at URJ Camp Newman.