It has been three days of hard work, blisters, and buckets of sweat, but it is almost time to sprout, literally. Next week, the campers of Young Judea Sprout Lake in upstate New York will arrive. For this eight-week summer, I have one goal in mind, to make clear the intimate connection our tradition has with the earth. As staff has slowly trickled in from across Israel, Canada and the United States, I am impressed by the continual excitement when they meet “the Garden Guy”. The desire to dig, plant and labor is ever present. I believe this spirit is driven by the idea of A.D. Gordon, a leader of labor Zionism, who coined the phrase, “To build and to be built.” If this camp experience is representative of a cultural change spreading throughout the youth of America, we may be able to break through the environmental barriers done by the generations past. I hope that we may have finally returned to a time where reward is not determined by ease and money, but rather one in which joy is found in a sore back, muddy boots and a ground tilled, planted, and alive.
We must be willing to get dirty. We must remember our roots— both literally and figuratively. Our roots as a people are tied to the earth. Regardless of personal Israelis politics and viewpoints on current events, to me it is clear that our religion and culture is tied historically to the land of Israeli. Our ancestors were able to make a desert flower, a wasteland grow. They were willing, driven and committed to getting dirty. Through working the land they were transformed into a people continually pushing past adversity, for they recognized that life is not easy, and it is not meant to be. We, as global citizens, Jews, humans, are meant to be challenged. Through challenge we grow as individuals. So too through toil do we make the land grow. As Jews we are must join together and remember that we are united by much more than we are divided. We must remember our roots, and we must plant them in fertile soil prepared by the sweat of our brows.
Psalm 126, which is traditionally said in the grace after meals, teaches us “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” I pray that these tears are neither of hardship nor pain, but rather of hard work and determination, for only than may be truly build ourselves into the Chosen People.