Wednesday, June 9th, 2010...10:14 am

Tufts Hillel: At the JYP Camp

So much has happened since our last post, it’s hard to figure out where to start. We arrived at the JYP (Jewish Youth Pioneers) camp on Thursday after an early departure from the shores of Alibag. The last four days have been filled with great food, engaging conversations, dance parties, and the ever-important filtered water.

We quickly bonded with the 30 JYP members by rooming with them and having discussions on personal values and shared Jewish experiences. However, the true friendships were built on games of Bananagrams and Taki while fighting off the bugs under the fans.

Shabbat provided the time and space for the two groups to come together in entirely new ways. After rock climbing, zip-lining and hiking to a gorgeous Buddhist temple under the searing sun, 50 squeaky clean smiling faces circled up under the fading light for a Friday night service. (Squeaky clean might be a bit of an exaggeration because as soon as you step out of the shower you start sweating again.)

The service was constructed by JYP and Tufts students to blend Bene Israel traditions with Tufts Ashkenazi traditions. This process, for me, was one of the best parts of the trip—a true learning experience for everyone involved. We started the first few verses of L’cha Dodi with an American melody and finished with a Bene Israel melody. We recited the Sh’ma sitting down and learned to make a shin with our hands on our foreheads while speaking the words that sustained the Jewish community here for thousands of years. We taught them Shalom Rav and they showed us their tradition of saying blessings over dates and bananas. We sang Shalom Alechem together using a shared melody before joining in the blessing over the wine.

While waiting for dinner, the first of many verses of “Gesher Tsar Meod” broke out. Singing together first in Hebrew and then English, the JYP then taught us the verses in Hindi. This led into one of our many dance parties this week. People spun about the room, singing the Hora and David Melech—lifting Dana into the air to celebrate her birthday.

When the power went out and the room went black, everyone started singing “Gesher Tsar Meod” in whichever language they chose.  (“The whole world is a very narrow bridge/ and I say the most important part/ is not to be afraid.”) The lights returned and we began the ‘motzi and dinner, picking up different Bene Israel traditions along the way.

Free time at the camp was spent swimming in the pool to escape the heat or playing soccer and cricket. Havdallah led into a singing session and dinner was followed by a crazy dance party by the pool. It turns out that despite the cultural differences between the two groups, we’re still just a bunch of crazy teenagers, having a good time.

As we load our stuff back onto the bus and say “so long” to our new friends (we’ll see many again before the trip is up), I’m reminded by Ariel that there is no graceful way to eat a mango on a moving bus.

~ Eric Siegel

Tufts Hillel – India – May/June 2010

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