Jewish tradition likes to speak of two different types of mitzvot, or commandments. On the one hand there are mishpatim, injunctions that make sense and are rooted in reason. Absent the gift of Torah, individuals and communities hopefully would have figured out that prohibitions against murder and theft are necessary to create a civil society. […]See More
By Bracha Hermon
The first day we were home, I found myself crying in frustration. Breakfast bled into lunch, which bled into dinner. My two sons milled around and snacked incessantly. Popcorn covered our newly washed floors. They begged for hot chocolate and then walked around our small Jerusalem apartment with sticky mugs and sticky fingers. The problem wasn’t just food or cleanliness. They fought constantly. They weren’t helpful or nice. They did nothing productive. I had spent my day cooking, cleaning, and breaking up fights, so that they could…what? Stay healthy, for sure, but not much else. After dinner, desperate for them to go to sleep, I declared, “Lights out! It’s been a long day.”
“Why?” they protested. “We don’t have school tomorrow. We’re on vacation!”
I promised them (and myself) that I’d wake them up early the next morning. I couldn’t afford to lose the most basic structure of morning and night. But I knew that they needed more than that. They needed sun, work, and reading. Most importantly, they needed purpose.
I thought of camp. I was at Ramah Sports Academy this past summer with my sons. They still talk of camp often, and I realized the similarities between the camp experience and the quarantine experience. You spend your time with the same people, in close quarters, day after day, and the goal is to fill the “vacation” with meaning. There is the homesickness, too, the shock of the first few days, of knowing that you’ve lost your usual routine and creature comforts. A daily schedule helps campers cope and thrive, so I borrowed the RSA schedule – which my kids and I already know so well – would help us cope and thrive, too.
When I sat down with my sons and told them that we were going to do a modified Ramah Sports Academy schedule, with Shacharit, mealtimes, major, and bedtime, my oldest son, Noah, said pointedly, “This would be a lot more fun if we actually did this with other people.” If this was actually camp, he meant.
On a video call to their older, wiser cousin, they showed her the schedule. “That’s great,” she said. “So you don’t get lost.”
Our schedule helps us feel a little less lost, a little less rudderless. Given the state of the world, prayer certainly feels like the right task with which to begin. I can’t say if the world needs my family’s prayers, but we need our prayers. We need a sense of rootedness, of tradition. We have mealtimes. We have nikayon, major, and shower hour.
During Shacharit my two kids fell into two Tefillah archetypes – the one who wants to lead the prayers and the one who wants to heckle. During “major” time we read, made phone calls, got some sun, and played basketball. I let them play one-on-one at an empty court with their own ball.
Even with all this, let’s be honest, my kids are still majoring in tablet use, and if I sound like I have my act together, I’m giving you the wrong impression. I’m jittery, impatient, and grieving for the state of the world in which we all live.
I think, “Renew our days as of old.” The way for us to cope is to remember a time when we were happy, so we can hope for it and try to replicate it. For my kids, their “days of old” are the days they spent with the RSA family. Wishing all of you good health and good cheer!