From Ice Cream To Prayer

An illustration in Capital Camps’ new siddur that depicts Psalm 92. (Provided)
An illustration in Capital Camps’ new siddur that depicts Psalm 92. (Provided)

The campers and staff members at Capital Camps have spent the summer thinking, learning and putting together a prayer book to be used at the camp next summer.

Led by Rabbi Miriam Burg, director of Jewish life, the project was put together in response to the camp’s need for a new siddur, as the one they had been using was falling apart.

“I received a lot of questions asking whether we were going to have a new siddur, and I thought, instead of buying one, we should use the opportunity to create a Capital Camps siddur and have all of the campers and staff be a part of the learning and creative experience,” Rabbi Burg said.

The process began with an ice cream program in which every village would meet with Rabbi Burg on the camp’s old lacrosse field and pour cream, sugar and vanilla in small bags and ice and rock salt in large bags. After placing the smaller bags inside the large ones and playing catch with the bags for five to 10 minutes, the campers created and enjoyed their self-made ice cream and added their own mix-ins to top off the treat.

“After they enjoyed their ice cream, we sat down and talked about how ice cream is like prayer, and they had wonderful answers, everything from ‘it’s sweet’ to ‘it’s better made together’ and ‘it’s something you turn to when you’re feeling low,’” Rabbi Burg said. “I used that moment to introduce the two major concepts of Jewish prayer, keva and kavanah. Keva is what is fixed in Jewish prayer, the words and order of the prayers, and kavanah is the personal, it’s what we bring to the prayer. The keva was the ice cream itself, and the kavanah was the mix-ins. When keva and kavanah come together, that’s the magic of Jewish prayer.”

Haskivenuh. (Provided)
Haskivenuh. (Provided)

From there, each village was assigned a particular part of the liturgy, and within that, each cabin studied and became familiar with a particular prayer. The campers, along with Rabbi Burg, spent time looking at source sheets and the content of the prayer to pull out the big ideas and ask the big questions, some of which will be published in the siddur next summer.

“I think people connect with prayer in different ways at different times, and if there are questions  then the prayer book can talk to us, and we can talk back to it,” said Rabbi Burg. “We want them to know how important their questions are and that we value their questions and their thoughtfulness in response.”

The third step in the prayer book process had the campers meet with Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen, the camp’s artist-in-residence, to create artwork based on the big ideas they had discussed before. The campers’ works of art were then put together in a collage and digitized by Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen to create the images that will be the artwork in the prayer book.

“The images will relate through the collage process, but they may have unique looks — some serious, some fun, some almost cartoon-like and some abstract, but all really interesting and all beautiful voices of our Capital Camps community,” added Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen.

With the new prayer books intended to be used for Shabbat services next summer, Rabbi Burg hopes to spark excitement among the staff and campers about the siddur and the prayers inside.

“I hope that when they see the siddur they say, ‘Wow!’” she said. “I want them to see themselves in the prayer book and see themselves connected to each other and to our tradition in ways that mean something and inspire them. I want them to own the book and have it not just be something that someone gave them, but something that’s theirs.”

Rabbi Burg added that they will be including more of the liturgy in the prayer book than the current siddur has.

“We’re adding liturgy so we can grow in our prayer and grow into the prayer book,” she said. “I’m just really excited that the process of making the book and the opportunity to use it are both inspiring and meaningful. We could have just bought a new product, but camp is the place to immerse and engage and learn and play. That’s what we did, and it’s an incredible thing.”

Emily Minton writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

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