Shabbat Shalom from Pacific Northwest!
If we had been asked to package our trip’s most impactful conversations and experiences neatly into a Torah portion, Matot/Mas-ei (Numbers 30:2–36:13) would be it. Amongst the verses of this portion, we see the allotment of cities specifically for those seeking refuge, we come across a massive example of gender disparity, and above all else, we see a community using its differences to rally together towards a common goal. As we head into the concluding days of our trip, the fact that this portion is the last in its book is an extra bow on top of our perfectly timed Torah portion.
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of conversation, experience, laughs, and growth. Our teens have facilitated discussions on challenging topics such as the implications of privilege, gender disparity, and global political conditions with respect, grace, and passion. Their ability to respond to each other’s differences in knowledge and opinion with such maturity and a willingness to learn is something that we have all been touched by, and ultimately, it was this willingness to support each other so genuinely that made our time staffing the International Rescue Committte‘s summer camp together so successful.
In this week’s portion, as the Israelites are camped on the east bank of the Jordan River preparing to finally cross into the land of Israel, it is decided that six cities will be constructed solely to create safe spaces for those seeking refuge. Looking back at our six days spent running the camp here in Seattle, we would like to believe that each day was filled with so many uniquely special, personal, and impactful moments that at some point, every child attending was able to feel that he or she had found their own safe space, a city made entirely for them out of moments full of celebration and play.
When we have asked our teens about their biggest take-aways from their time with the campers, across the board, we’ve gotten an answer along the lines of, “Kids are kids no matter what they’ve been through. They just want to play and be normal, and at the end of the day that’s exactly what they are.” When we started this program, we did our best to prepare ourselves to take care of children whose experience bases were so overwhelmingly different from those of our own, yet if anything, our time together has shown us that all we ever needed to prepare ourselves was a community of children deserving of every bit of love and happiness we could possibly send their way. We have learned that sometimes the anxiety that stems from our preconceptions clouds us from entering into an experience with our hearts open to finding connection through our differences. Moving forward, we know now the memories and relationships we’ve built throughout our time at the IRC are ones that will influence our interactions with others for years to come.
When we complete the reading of a book in the Torah, it is tradition to exclaim, “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik,” “Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other.” As we leave our time with the IRC behind and prepare to take our experiences with us into the world that exists outside of the community we have built together here, we hold this phrase close to our hearts as the perfect send off to summarize the work we have done together and the work that this crazy world of ours is still waiting on. We are so proud and inspired by the strength that we have seen each teen discover in themselves and the way that they have brought that strength out in each other.
Thank you for helping us find our strength, MCPNW.
Noah, Heather, Elliot, and Tamar
Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest 2016 Staff Team