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Naomi Less , an accomplished singer-songwriter, musician, actor and experiential educator has recently launched Jewish Chicks Rock, her project aimed at helping develop more resilient Jewish girls who successfully navigate adolescence without falling prey to at-risk behaviors. The focus of the work is through positive empowerment and self-esteem messaging in Jewish rock music. Naomi musically shares messages of hope, strength and confidence to young girls. Naomi was recently named by the Jewish Week as one of the “36 under 36” innovators to watch.

Naomi is a founding company member and Director of Education and Trainingof Storahtelling: Jewish Ritual Theater, ( Naomi culled over a decade of training experience in Jewish camps through first the National Ramah Commission and then the Foundation for Jewish Camp where she served as vice president of programs. Naomi is involved with the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s “Addressing the Evaded Curriculum” project and the Florence Melton CommuniTeen High School program.

Matt Dorter is the assistant director of Camp Poyntelle-Lewis Village.  After graduating New York University with studies in both Theater and Education, Matt took a few years away from camp to work as a Director for The New Acting Company of The Children's Aid Society, an afterschool theater program for children ages 3-14. 
Ruth Goodman is director of the Israeli Dance Institute, the Jewish Dance Division of the 92nd Street “Y”, the annual Israel Folk Dance

Festival, and the Parparim Ensemble of Israeli Dance and Song. Ruth conducts workshops and seminars throughout the Americas and holds a

Master of Arts degree in Dance Education from Columbia University Teachers College.
Nili Simhai serves as the Director of the Teva Learning Center, North America's foremost Jewish environmental organization, running programming for thousands of students annually from Jewish day and congregational schools, as well as family and youth retreats. Passionate about all of Creation, Nili's background includes study and work in ecological concerns ranging from wildlife conservation, wetland remediation, and entomology (Ohio State University) to ornithology (International Birdwatching Center in Eilat, Smithsonian Institute) and natural history (Natural History Museum of Cleveland, Cleveland MetroParks).
Laura Bellows’ work and learning in the fields of Jewish and environmental education has led her across the country from Oberlin College and back home to Washington, DC, where she currently serves as Congregational Programs Coordinator for the Teva Learning Center. When Laura is not engaged in local justice work in the city or Jewish environmental education in the woods, she can be found working on her small art business, contra-dancing, or in her garden.

Dr. Evie Rotstein is the coordinator of the Camp Jewish Discovery Project funded by the UJA Federation of NY. She is also the director of the Leadership Institute for Congregational School Educators, a professional learning program which is joint project of HUC-JIR and JTS. She is an adjunct professor at Hebrew Union College.

Retreat Schedule

Thursday (Arrival 4:30 -5:00)
5:30 Bruchim HaBaim – Welcome

Mixers and Introductions
6:30 Aruchat Erev -Dinner
7:30 Activity I - Desert Discovery (Naomi, Eva, Matt)

Hatikvah - Content and Context

Characters - A diverse nation
9:30 Activity II – Nili and Laura

Building a shared language thru games
10:30 Team time and Snack

Show camp videos

7:30 Boker tov – Good Morning
8:00 Aruchat boker – Breakfast
8:30 Why Israel Matters?

Ilan Wagner –
10:45 Rikkud- Israeli dancing
12:00 Aruchat Tzohoraim – Lunch and Shira
1:00 Israeli Arts/Teva
2:45 Teva/Israeli Arts
4:30 Shabbat prep (Music, Teva, Rikkud, Drama)
5:00 Free time: Shabbat preparation
6:30 Kabbalat Shabbat/Tefillah experience (

Ruth – Dance

Rachel, Eva, Naomi - Service

8:00 Dinner – Shalom Aleichem

Kiddush – 4 shades of wine/Personal transformation
9-11 Oneg Shabbat

Storytelling and Improv – Eva and Matt
11:00 Secrets of Shabbat - Naomi
9 am Aruchat Boker - Breakfast

9.45 Birkat HaShachar – Morning Blessings (Rachel, Naomi, Nili

Parshah activity – BaMidbar – In the desert
11:15 Kiddush/snack
11.30 Teva Workshop/ Drama Workshop
1:00 Aruchat Tzohoraim - Lunch and Shabbat Shira
2:00 Free time (with ultimate Frisbee or softball)
3:30 Elective Workshops: Rikkud, Shira, Storytelling, Teva
5:30 Snack, songs and stories/Seudah shlishit
6:00 Reflection groups – Camp teams share learning
7 00 Aruchat Erev - Dinner
8 00 Shabbat presentations – Melave Malkah

9.00 Havdalah – Naomi and Nili - Israeli Dancing - Ruth
10:00 Kumsitz campfire - Food and music
12:00 Layla Tov – Good night

8:30 - Boker tov – Pack up your things
9 am Aruchat Boker Breakfast
9.45 am Morning Tefillah – Awe and Wonder

Rachel, Nili and Naomi

10.30-12.30 Camp teams prepare summer programs with faculty resources

Each camp will write 4 programs using the program template
12 pm Closing circle – Prayer for Peace – All faculty

Box lunch & departure

Have a great summer!

Key Vocabulary Words
 Yisrael In Genesis 32:28, Jacob is given a new name, Yisrael, after wrestling with a messenger of God. The name is commonly interpreted as mean ‘he struggled/wrestled with God’. As descendents of Jacob, B’nai Yisrael – Children of Israel – we continue to have God-wrestling be a part of our identity as Jews. Yisrael is used to refer to both land and people. When the modern Jewish state was declared in 1948, the name Medinat Yisrael – the State of Israel – was chosen.
 Zion Zion historically referred to the Jebusite fortress, captured by King David that became the center of the City of David. The term came to represent all of the land of Israel and appears many times in the Bible in this context.
 Eretz Eretz means ‘land’ and has been used in the last century most frequently to denote a politically-defined geographical area, Eretz Yisrael – the Land of Israel. Historically, Eretz Yisrael was defined by borders much more extensive than the modern state of Israel, as described in the Torah.

 Midbar Midbar means Desert or Wilderness. The fourth book of the Torah is Bamidbar – in the desert/wilderness. The image of wilderness conjures up both the wanderings of B’nai Israel – the Children of Israel – in the desert for forty years between the Exodus from Egypt and entering the Promised Land, and also a spiritual realm of wandering and searching as we see the journeys described in the Torah as a metaphor for our own spiritual seeking. Today, in the land of Israel, the midbar provides some of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring environmental experiences.

 Tikvah Tikvah means ‘hope’. The national anthem of the state of Israel is HaTikvah – The Hope. It was written by Naftali Herz Imber, a secular Jew from Galicia who moved to Palestine in the 1880s. The words express the hope that one day the Jewish people will one day obtain national independence in the land of Israel. Today, the anthem continues to symbolize a vision of a land, and the hope of peace between Israel and all of her neighbors.
 Kehilah Kehilah refers to the gathering of individuals into a unified group – a community. Even in English, ‘community’ implies a group with a shared set of values and a vision for who they wish to be and how they wish to act toward each other. In the Torah, all that Moses addresses to the kahal involves sharing what God has instructed in order to create a kehilah kedoshah ­– a holy community – including laws, ethical codes and ways of being in relationship with each other.
 Tikkun Tikkun means ‘to fix’ or ‘to repair’. We often refer to Tikkun Olam – Repairing the world. The origin of this term is found in Jewish mysticism – a reference to the act of literally putting back together the broken pieces of our world. The phrase has been reinterpreted in recent decades to mean helping to make the world a better place through our own actions.

 Ma’aseh B’reishit Works of Creation. This phrase is used to acknowledge the wonders of our Universe and our earth, recognizing the Source of Creation who brought the world into being. When we recognize the wonders of creation, we acknowledge that all parts of creation – from the butterfly to the pesky mosquito, from a good rain to the workings of our own bodies, are unique, wondrous and worthy of praise.

 Menuchah Rest. Menuchah particularly refers to rest on the Sabbath day. It connotes much more than relaxation – it is the absence of particular kinds of activities that are derived from the work that was required to build the Tabernacle in the desert, as described in the Torah. One way to understand this list is to consider all the ways we use and manipulate the world around us – both environment and people – and consider Shabbat menuchah as an invitation to desist from this way of being in relationship with the world for one day of the week.

 Simcha Joy/Happiness. Shabbat is a day of enjoyment – appreciating the world around us, appreciating and being part of a community, and enjoying the company of family and friends. We even welcome in Shabbat on Friday night by singing L’cha Dodi – Come my beloved – addressing Shabbat as a bride, and imagining the Sabbath as the ultimate simcha – a wedding celebration. We heighten our sense of simcha on Shabbat with good food, dressing in different clothing, singing, dancing, and more.

Service Templates

Downloadable and editable prayer service templates can be found at:

These templates include Friday night and Saturday morning services, Havdalah, Birkat Hamazon, and readings and song downloads that can be inserted into creative services.

Gratitude Quotes
"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." -Albert Schweitzer
Someone I feel gratitude toward is ____________________________________ because_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say "thank you?" -William A. Ward

This morning I want to say ‘thank you’ for ______________________________

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” -William Arthur Ward
This morning I feel grateful for _______________________________________


“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.” –Buddha

“Let's be grateful for those who give us happiness; they are the charming gardeners who make our soul bloom.” -Marcel Proust
Something/Someone who has made me feel happy is _____________________ because___________________________________________________________

“Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.” -Alfred Painter

Thanksgiving is good but thanks-living is better.

  • Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” (G.K. Chesterton)
Something in my life that I so often take for granted is ____________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This morning I realize how grateful I am.

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” (Dennis Waitley)

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” (G.K. Chesterton)
Something in this world that I feel awe and wonder for is _________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” (J.F. Kennedy)

Dear Lord: The gods have been good to me. For the first time in my life, everything is absolutely perfect just the way it is. So here's the deal: You freeze everything the way it is, and I won't ask for anything more. If that is OK, please give me absolutely no sign. OK, deal. In gratitude, I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. Thy will be done.” (Homer Simpson, as written by Dan Castellaneta)
Prepared by Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz, PhD, Congregation B'nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT.

Great Leadership Ideas:

Enhancing Your Shabbat Service
“Charismatic leaders leave us thinking, I wish I could do that. Great leaders inspire us to say, I can do that!” -John Holt

Welcome people into the service. On Shabbat we don’t have to worry about time; all day long it’s Shabbat! Instead of the usual greeting, “Good Morning” we say, “Shabbat Shalom.” Designate a small group of campers or counselors to be the greeters for Shabbat services or rituals each week.

Be a good role model. Many of your campers have never experienced this kind of Shabbat celebration. Give them an idea of how to participate and show them the wide scope of what it looks like to enjoy themselves in prayer, singing, dancing, clapping, davening, etc.

Prepare well. Know the music, the text, the outline, and your group.

Make an effort to create a warm Shabbat environment. Try re-arranging furniture, moving chairs closer together, changing the lighting, etc.

Make your service a dynamic experience. Create high and low points, slow pace alternating with fast pace throughout. Have quiet contemplative, restful moments as well as joyous outbursts of song. Use stories. Everyone loves a story. It’s a classic and successful way of teaching our Jewish traditions, culture, and values.

Use your whole body to lead. Remember that your group is filled with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. This means that to really capture the attention of the whole group, you want to include listening moments (brief explanations, stories), plenty of visual cues (hand gestures), and movement (dance, clapping, standing).

During the service or program, walk through the group and among your campers.

Make eye contact and offer your Shabbat greeting as a smile.
Change the direction of the group by having everyone face the middle. If you’re leading a dance moment and everyone ends up in a different place from where they started, continue the service from this new place.

Be spontaneous! Plan your session well, but keep an open mind to the unexpected. If you suddenly think of something that will enhance the moment, go with it!

Ask for feedback. Talk to your educators, counselors, and campers to learn more about how they experienced the service or program. Your camp is a unique community and you have the opportunity to tailor the session to the needs and interests of your group.

Repetition is crucial for learning, comfort, and for creating your camp traditions. That being said, don’t be afraid to try new things. Prayer and honoring Shabbat is about the ways in which we appreciate, question, and explore life. Prayer experiences don’t have to happen in the same place each time, look the same or sound the same.

Prepared by Shira Kline, performer, recording artist, and sacred technician.

In the Beginning’… or, ‘Once Upon a Time...’

Stories are one of the best tools that we have for making the values and lessons of Torah and the experience of Shabbat come alive for our campers. Stories help us to feel the experience - hurt, relief, laughter, insult, foolishness, joy… since time began, stories have entertained and educated, and the Jewish storytelling tradition is as rich and powerful as they come.

Our ultimate story is the Torah. In the following pages you will find a section dedicated to ‘Parsha Time’ – a way to make a weekly Torah time on Shabbat come alive at camp, with all kinds of storytelling techniques, skits, drama games, and debates that you can use to help your campers experience our ancient story and put themselves in the shoes of our biblical ancestors. If you’ve seen the movie Mary Poppins, it’s a bit like the scene where they all jump into the chalk painting on the sidewalk. They literally enter the scene and have an adventure exploring the possibilities that can be found there.

The rabbis of old did this in a storytelling form called midrash. One of the most famous of the midrash that you might have heard before is one where Abraham, when he was a young boy, started to wonder about what or who God really was. His father was a sculpture of stone idols, and Abraham came to the realization that it was foolish to worship lumps of stone. One day he took a hammer and smashed all of the smaller idols in his father’s shop, placing the hammer into the hand of the largest stone idol. When his father returned and saw the damage he was furious. Abraham said, ‘but father, it was that idol over there!’ His father replied, ‘Don’t be foolish, that’s just a lump of stone’, to which Abraham then challenged, ‘So why are we praying to it?’.
This story isn’t actually in the Torah. The rabbis invented it because they wanted to teach us that it is not one who blindly accepts things that comes to believe in the true God, but one who ask questions and challenges. That’s a great lesson to teach, and Jews have been telling this story for over a thousand years now. It isn’t only rabbis of old who can invent stories within stories to teach us something. In the ‘Parsha Time’ pages, you will see examples of how to add dialogue, debate and transpose a Torah story for camp to make these stories come alive for your campers.
We can also use storytelling, or drama to act out a story, to teach about the experience of Shabbat. There are many stories in the Shabbat resource ‘A Day Apart’, by Noam Sachs Zion and Shawn Fields-Meyer, that you can use (e.g. see pages 21, 42, 91 or 163). Add these stories to your Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service, or act out a story during Shabbat afternoon snack time, or just before you make Havdalah.
Prepared by Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz, PhD, Congregation B'nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT.
Fri night Service Story:

Mama Anansi, The Orthydox Jewish Spider

Searching for food to make Shabbat extra special.

Loses grip on rock, falls into the Nile river, swallowed by fish

See Trouble alerts the siblings

Road Builder builds a road to edge of Nile

River Drinker enhales entire river

Game Splitter cuts open the fish

Mama is saved.  Tries to get through the mud to her children.

Owl swoops down, picks her up in beak, to feed the baby owls

Stone Thrower hits the owl right between the eyes.  Mama falls thru sky

Cushion follows her, and cushions her fall.

Who should Mama thank for saving her?  

Each of her children had a special talent, and you can never accomplish great things unless you come together as a team.

Technique Workshop:

Jonah and The Whale

Jonah was lazy.  Heard voice of God telling him what to do.

Jonah doesn’t like to be told what to do?  Do you?

Jonah wants to hide, run away, disguise himself.

He gets on a ship, promising to help in exchange for the passage

After a short time, he sneaks down below to nap.

The weather gets stormy.  

The captian is ordering people to throw possessions overboard.

People are praying for their lives.
Jonah is nowhere to be found.  They find him sleeping.

Do you sleep through your storms?

Jonah admits it’s Gd angry with him for not listening.

They throw him overboard as Jonah requests and the sea calms.

Jonah enters the belly of a  whale.  It’s smelly, slimy.

He prays to Gd to let him out.  But that didn’t work.

He starts to apologize.  That works better.

With great sincerity, kavannah, he thanks Gd for all he does have, and asks for forgiveness by promising to try not to ever do it again.

Whale lets out a huge burp.  Jonah is spewed on shore and does what he was asked to do in the first place.
Sunday AM Gratitude theme:

Wooden Sword

Poor man sings with joy over his evening meal.

King is missing something in his life.

Dressed as beggar, he visits a poor man joyful over a bowl of soup and crust of bread.

To understand if joy is missing in his life, he tries to break the joy of this man.

Orders all shoe shiners to get a permit from the king.

So, the poor man changes work, and cuts wood.

Next day, King is surprised to find him once again eating with joy.

King figures maybe he is missing the faith this man has.

King orders all woodchoppers to be volunteer guards for a week.

After a day guarding the gate, the poor man is not given food.

He sells the metal blade and fashions a wooden one.  He has food for the week.

The king visits, hoping to find a dejected man, but instead he was joyful and full of faith.

He orders a toenail execution and for the poor man to use his sword.

The poor man pleads not to perform the execution.

He looks the prisoner in the eye and says:  If this man is innocent, may my sword turn to wood.  He is offered a job in the kingdom teaching people how to be grateful for the little things they have.

Parsha Time
When we pray, we talk to God; when we study Torah, God talks to us.
The Torah is read in installments, from beginning to end, every Shabbat throughout the year. It is our weekly soap-opera and we can re-live the journey of our ancestors every week by diving into their story. While you might be most familiar with the ritual chanting from the scroll that takes place in synagogue every week, and the portion that you might have prepared for you bar- or bat-mitzvah, there are many ways to make the Jewish story come alive.
In fact, some of the earliest accounts of how our Torah was shared with the people describe a scene that took place not in a synagogue at all, but in the marketplace. Imagine a scene full of smells and sounds, and people bustling around. A reader takes the stand and makes an announcement: ‘Roll up! Roll up! Gather round for this week’s installment of our people’s story!’ As the people hushed up and waited to hear where the journey would lead them this week, translators would move around the square, explaining the story in the local language (Aramaic), and often adding interesting details to the story as they went to bring it alive and connect it issues of their day.

In the following pages you will find a brief summary of each weekly installment (a parsha) and the date this summer for that installment. This is just background information for you. Next you will find some focal points suggested, with the English translation of the actual text of the Torah that describes that part of the story. For each week using the focal points as a guide, look over some of the suggested activities on the next page that can help you to turn the text into interesting and entertaining skits, discussions, stories and songs. The first week’s parsha has been filled out in more detail to provide an example of how you can apply the suggested activities to the text.

Every line of Torah contains a whole world to explore and our rabbis of the past taught that there are ’70 faces of Torah’, by which they meant an infinite number of ways to bring it alive. Don’t worry about knowing the ‘right way’ to lead parsha time – there is no ‘right way’ – just ‘your way’. We invite you to explore the stories of your heritage and help bring them alive for your campers.

Prepared by Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz, PhD, Congregation B'nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT.

Parsha Activities
Activity #1. Write and act out a skit of the scene. When you are creating a skit based on the text that has been included in this packet, you can invent extra conversations that don’t actually appear in the text. One way to find good places to insert these extra conversations is to imagine yourself really there. At what points in the story do you wonder what someone was thinking, or why they acted in a particular way? If the story doesn’t give you an answer, you can invent one by adding the missing dialogue.
Here is an example of how to find those extra conversations in the first week’s installment, ‘Chukat’:

  • Pay special attention to the people who argue with Moses. For example, imagine that the people get together for a ‘town meeting’ to complain with each other before they take it to Moses. Does everyone complain? Does anyone stand up for Moses?
  • And when Moses calls the people ‘rebels’ – does he vent to Aaron, or to God, or to himself about these Israelites who are always complaining and never seem grateful for all he has done for them?

  • What about at the end of the story when God tells Moses and Aaron that they didn’t show proper faith in God because Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it, like he was told? Do they plead with God? Do they offer excuses?

Activity #2. Re-locate the scene to summer camp. Many of the focal points suggested for each week’s parsha teach about human behaviors that don’t only happen in the stories of the Torah. They happen to us all the time. So we can ‘translate’ the ideas of a Torah story and relocate them to camp life, school life, or home life with parents. This kind of skit is especially suitable to the themes in the later part of the summary, where you will see that the focal points emphasize values and concepts and there are fewer ‘stories’ in the text to act out.
For example, this is how you could apply this approach to relocating the story about Moses hitting the rock from week one’s parsha, ‘Chukat’. Write a skit that deals with the following parts of the story:

  • What do campers complain to their counselors about?

  • Maybe the counselor goes to the Camp Director for advice on how to deal with these complaining campers, but they then don’t quite do as the Director suggested. Instead they do something that gets a result (the campers stop complaining) but they get the Director mad.

  • Did the counselor intentionally not do as the Director said, or were they impatient and just didn’t hear properly? Did they let their frustration with their campers get in the way of handling things in the best way they could? How do the campers feel when they know that the counselor got into trouble over the incident?

Activity #3. Campers role-playing scenes as if they were there. Using either 1 or 2 to present the story first, ask campers to imagine a conversation they would be part of and insert themselves into the story. You can also divide the act into 2 or 3 ‘acts’ and have break-out role-playing discussions with the campers between each act. For this activity, you don’t fill in all of the extra dialogue in the story yourself. You pause in the story and ask campers to get into small groups, facilitated by a counselor, so that they can imagine the scene for themselves and imagine what they would say if they were in the story. This exercise works best if they speak in ‘first person’. For example, ‘I am Moses, and when the Israelites start complaining again I get really mad. I go see my brother Aaron, and I say…’

In the parsha for week 1, ‘Chukat’, examples of group role-playing of additional scenes include:

  • Let them to act out the ‘town meeting’ conversation between the Israelites (see above).

  • They are Moses and Aaron talking to God when God says that they didn’t do what they’d been told to do.

Activity #4. Break-out discussion groups. You might start ‘parsha time’ with a skit (see 2) to introduce an idea, and then hand out a one-page discussion guide that contain some texts about the idea with some questions to have small group discussions. This kind of activity is best for campers aged 10 or older.
Activity #5. Scenarios. For this activity, a scenario can be described on paper that illustrates an ethical issue or an idea contained in the Torah portion. It can be followed by questions to help campers discuss, in small groups, what they would do in the scenario, and how Jewish ethics derived from the values or laws taught in the Torah portion might inform our answer.
Activity #6. Issues programs. Look at the program section of the booklet for programs that are specifically connected to themes contained in the focal points for particular weeks. For example, there is a program on tzedakah, one on hunger, one on prophets, and one on Moses as a leader. These programs mix skits, text discussion, and other activities together to make a 45 min – 1 hour long program.

Activity #7. Camp games. Take a theme from a parsha focal point and adapt a camp game to highlight key words or values. For example, play human bingo with the characters in one of the stories, or create a scavenger hunt or series of challenges for parsha Balak, where groups have to get a message from King Balak, find Bala’am and his ass, deliver a message from an angel to Bala’am and, finally deliver Bala’am’s blessing ‘Ma tovu’ (How great are your tents O Jacob) to the Children of Israel!

Prepared by Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz, PhD, Congregation B'nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT.

Parsha Summaries

1. June 28th Korach. Numbers 16:1-18:32


  • Korach of the priestly tribe of Levi challenges Moses, along with 250 chieftains, accusing him of raising himself above the community as more holy than them. Two other priests, Dathan and Abiram, also refuse to follow Moses’ instructions.

  • Moses announces that the next day God will judge the challenge through a ritual involving their fire pans and incense.

  • God wishes to destroy the entire community but Moses intercedes for them. Instead, Moses announces that it will be shown that the rebels have spurned God if the ground opens up and swallows them, which it promptly does. The other 250 rebels are consumed by fire.

  • The people blame Moses and Aaron for the deaths, and God responds by bringing a plague, requiring another ritual act with incense by Moses to end the plague.

  • The latter part of the parsha outlines all that will be given to the Levites as part of their role as priests to the people.

Focal point: What is wrong with Korach’s rebellion? Exploring this story in detail raises challenging questions about God, Moses and the rebels.


2. July 5th. Chukat. Numbers 19:1-23:1


  • Chukat begins with the ritual slaughter and sacrifice of the ‘red heifer’.

  • Next, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, dies.

  • The people complain again that they have no water to drink. God tells Moses to speak to the rock to make water come forth but Moses, angry with these ‘rebel’ people, strikes the rock (like he did the first time around earlier in the desert wandering). Water still comes out, but because Moses got so angry and didn’t follow God’s instructions he is told that he will not get to enter the Promised land.

  • A little while later, Aaron dies and the people mourn for 30 days for him.

  • The Canaanites attack the Children of Israel, but the Children of Israel win.

  • The people are still complaining about why they came all this way to die in the wilderness. God punishes them for their disloyalty by sending poisonous snakes into their midst. Moses pleads on their behalf and God has Moses make a copper snake that, when people look at it, will heal them.

  • At the end of the parsha there are more battles, and the Children of Israel win again.

Focal Point: Moses striking the rock after Miriam’s death.

3. July 12th. Balak. Numbers 2:2-25:9


  • This parsha tells the story of Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab. Balak is afraid after hearing about the Children of Israel’ success in battle that they will attack him. He sends messengers to ask that Bala’am, a well-known pagan prophet, go and curse the Children of Israel. God forbids Bala’am to do as Balak asks. Balak gets angry, so God permits Bala’am to go, but only to say words that God permits.

  • On the journey, Bala’am’s donkey stops in its tracks because it sees an angel blocking the path. Bala’am beats the donkey to try to get it to move, upon which the donkey speaks and protests. Then Bala’am sees the angel. The angel tells him to continue his journey but reminds him only to say what God commands.

  • King Balak asks three times for Bala’am to utter a curse, but each time a blessing comes out. Bala’am is sent home.

  • A little while later the Israelites start mixing with the Moabites and this leads them to offer sacrifices to the Moabite god. They are punished with another plague. Pinchas is a Jew that sees an Israelite man and a Moabite woman entering a tent together and he goes and kills them both. This brings the plague to an end.

Focal point: Bala’am’s ‘curse’ – ‘Ma Tovu’ – How good are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel.

22: 4 And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time.-- 5 And he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor … saying: 'Behold, there is a people who have come out from Egypt; they cover the face of the earth, and they will rise against me. 6 Come now therefore, I pray of you, curse these people for me; for they are too mighty for me; maybe then I shall win, and we can defeat them, so that I may drive them out of the land; for I know that when you bless someone they are blessed, and when you curse someone they are cursed.' 7 And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed … and they came to Balaam, and spoke to him the words of Balak.

12 And God said to Balaam: 'You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.' 13 And Balaam got up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balak: ‘Go back to your land; for the Eternal refuses to let me leave with you.' 14 And the princes of Moab went to Balak, and said: 'Balaam refuses to come with us.' 15 And Balak sent yout more princes … 16 And they came to Balaam, and said to him: 'So says Balak the son of Zippor: Let nothing, I pray, hinder you from coming to me; 17 for I will promote you to very great honor, and I will do whatever you ask of me; come therefore, I pray of you, and curse these people for me.' 18 And Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak: 'If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I still couldn’t go against the word of God ...

20 And God came to Balaam at night, and said to him: 'If the men have come to call you, go with them; but you will only speak words that I permit you to say.' 21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. 22 And God was angry because he went; and the angel of the Eternal placed himself in the way… Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.-- 23 And the ass saw the angel of God standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field; and Balaam hit the ass, to turn her into the way...
26 And the angel of God went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. 27 And the ass saw the angel of God, and she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam was angry, and he hit the ass with his staff. 28 And God opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam: 'What have I done to you, that you have hit me these three times?' 29 And Balaam said to the ass: 'Because you have mocked me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would have killed you.' 30 And the ass said to Balaam: 'Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day? …

31 Then God opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of God standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face… 35 And the angel of God said to Balaam: 'Go with the men; but only the word that I shall speak to you, shall you speak.' So Balaam went with the princes of Balak…

41 And in the morning Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into Bamoth-baal, and he saw the Israelites from there. Ch. 24: 1 And when Balaam saw that it pleased God to bless Israel… 2 Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel dwelling tribe by tribe; and the spirit of God came upon him. 3 And he took up his parable, and said: The saying of Balaam the son of Beor, and the saying of the man whose eye is opened; 4 The saying of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, fallen down, yet with opened eyes: 5 How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel!’

4. July 19th. Pinchas. Numbers 25:10-30:1

  • This parsha goes into more detail about what happened at the end of the last parsha.

  • Next, Moses take a census of the Israelites and they total 601,730.

  • Based on these numbers, Moses announces which tribes will get which areas of land once they enter Canaan. Larger tribes get more land and smaller tribes less. Each person gets a holding of equal size. The tribe of the Levites don’t get any land because they are the priests who look after the ritual life of the community, and they don’t need to farm their own land because they get to eat from the food brought for sacrifices and offerings by others.

  • Because individual families get to inherit through men only, five sisters (Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah) who are the only ones left in their family bring their case to Moses and ask if they can inherit (the first case of feminism?!). Moses takes the case to God to decide, and God decides that they should inherit on behalf of their family.

  • Moses climbs to the top of Mount Abarim and is shown the land that his people will inherit but which he will not enter. Moses asks for a successor and God tells him to appoint Joshua as the next leader.

Focal point: the daughters of Zelophehad

5. July 26th. Matot Numbers 30:2-32:42

  • In Matot it describes laws about making vows.

  • Then it describes the battles that the Children of Israel have with the Midianites and what they do with the booty from their successes.
  • Then two tribes, Gad and Reuben, ask to settle in some good land on the east of the Jordan river rather than settling in the land of Canaan. Moses isn’t too happy about this to start with, because everyone is needed to make the invasion a success. But the two tribes promise to help take the land of Canaan and will only go back and settle on the other side of the river once the other tribes have settled in their new homes. So Moses agrees.

Focal point: the tribes of Gad and Reuben who don’t settle in the Promised Land

6. August 2nd. Mas’ey. 33:1-36:13

  • In Mas’ey (meaning ‘journeys’) the forty years of wandering in the desert are reviewed. Moses gives instructions about conquering the land, establishing the borders and dividing it among the tribes.

  • Moses describes how six ‘cities of refuge’ should be established so that, if someone accidentally kills another person (manslaughter) they can safely stay in these cities and get a fair trial.

Focal point: Cities of Refuge


7. August 4th. Ekev. Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

  • Moses is still giving his big, final speech. He tells them that if they keep their side of the covenant (observing God’s commandments) then God will keep them safe from their enemies.

  • He reminds them that God gave them manna while they wandered in the wilderness to remind them that ’…human beings do not live on bread alone’.

  • He warns them not to get arrogant once they settle in the land and pretend that it was all down to them rather than God. They will be in the land because those who had been there before were idolators, not because the Children of Israel are so great. So he reminds them about their tendency toward idol worship, like the time they built the Golden Calf, and warns them not to go down that path.
  • Moses tells the people they should learn from their history that God freed from slavery in Egypt and led them through the desert to arrive at this moment.

Focal points:

    • What is a covenant? Who do we make ‘covenants’ with today? Have we kept our side of the bargain? Has God kept God’s side of the bargain?

    • Can we really be commanded to ‘love’ and ‘revere’? How does that work?

    • The origins of the Grace after Meals – the Birkat hamazon. See the following text from the Torah: in verse 10 it says that we shall eat, be satisfied, and then we shall bless God – this is why we say a blessing when we have eaten a meal in Jewish tradition.

    • Related to giving thanks for food, the issue of Hunger (see program in handbook)

7 For God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey; 9 a land where you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass. 10 And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless God for the good land which God has given you. 11 Beware lest you forget God, in not keeping God’s commandments, and God’s ordinances, and God’s statutes, which I command you this day; 12 lest when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built great houses, and lived in them; 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have has multiplied; 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; 15 who led you through the great and dreadful wilderness, where there were serpents, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirsty ground where was no water; who brought you forth water out of the rock of flint; 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna … 17 and you say in your heart: 'My power and the might of my hand has gotten me all this wealth.' 18 But you shall remember your God, for it is God that gives you power to get wealth, so that God may establish the covenant which God swore to thy ancestors, as it is this day.

8. August 9th. Devarim. Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
NB. Unlike the previous parshiot, the book of Deuteronomy is a review of laws, ethics and values and there are fewer stories that lend themselves to being directly acted out in a skit. For these remaining parshiot of the summer we have provided several focal points that emphasize ideas and values that you could explore with a camp-based skit, or a discussion of a scenario, or role-playing.

  • This book of the Torah is a recap of lots of things that have been discussed in earlier parts of the Torah, but sometimes with additions or changes. It mainly reads like a long string of final speeches that Moses makes to the people to remind them of their history, and the laws that they should follow when they enter the land of Canaan.

  • Moses reminds them they are inheriting the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

  • He reminds them of the time when he appointed wise leaders to help lead them when the work was too much for him to do alone.

  • He reminds them of the spies that had been sent to look at the land of Canaan 40 years earlier and how they had been wandering in the desert since then because they didn’t have faith that they would succeed in conquering the land back then. Only Joshua and Caleb, two of the spies, had faith back then and so they are the only ones from that generation who have lived to enter the Promised land.

  • Moses reminds them of the routes they wandered and the battles they won along the way.

Focal points:

    • The importance of reviewing something

    • Choosing your battles
    • Growing up. Why did the Israelites have to go through so much for so long (40 years in the wilderness, instead of going straight to the promised land when they left Egypt)

    • Battle strategies – then and now

    • Getting into the promised land. What do the Israelites think about the whole ‘promised land’ thing and do they still want to go?

    • Does anyone know yet that Moses isn’t allowed to go in?

9. August 11th. Re’eh. Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

  • Moses is still talking in one of the longest speeches in history. Just in case they haven’t gotten the message yet, he reminds them life is choices of blessings and curses, and they should take the blessings by observing the commandments. He continues to go on about not doing any idol worship.

  • He reviews the rules about sacrifices, slaughtering and eating meat. He reviews rules about not disfiguring themselves and not eating things that are harmful to their health.

  • He reviews the laws of kashrut – what is permitted and what is forbidden.

  • He reminds them to set aside a tithe (1/10th of their produce) for the stranger, the orphan and the widow. He also reminds them about canceling debts owed every 7 years (the Sabbatical year). He reminds the elite about the proper treatment of slaves.

  • Finally he reviews the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.

Focal point:

      • Blessings and curses

      • Life choices and free will

      • Kashrut – why? Is it about Jewish identity?

      • Tzedakah (see tzedakah program in handbook)

10. August 16th. Va’etchanan. Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
  • Moses pleads with God one more time to be let into the Promised land, but God refuses.

  • Moses continues his speeches to the people, warning them not to worship idols and to remember to observe the commandments they have been given. He reminds them of the awesome experiences when the people received the 10 commandments. Moses recited the commandments and the people promise to obey. Then Moses declares, ‘Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One. You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’ (we say this in the Shema).

  • Moses warns the Children of Israel not to spare the people when they enter the land and not to mix with them.

  • Moses tells the people that they are God’s chosen and treasured people who have a covenant with God.

Focal points:

    • The Chosen people thing. This is very controversial. What does that phrase mean to us today?

    • Idol worship – what’s the big deal? Is it still going on today? (think not literally of stone idols, but the kinds of things that society idolizes that corrupts our values and ideals)

These are ideas can be seen in the last few verses of this week’s parsha that summarizes the main issues in the summary above:

7:1 When God shall bring you to the land that you are going to possess, and shall cast out many nations before you, the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than you; 2 and when God shall deliver them up before you, and you shall smite them; then you shall utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them … 4 For he will turn away your son from following Me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of God be kindled against you, and He will destroy you quickly. 5 But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and cut down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.

6 For you art a holy people to God: God has chosen you to be His own treasure, out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. 7 God did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people--for you were the fewest of all peoples-- 8 but because God loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers – this is why brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Eternal, He is God; the faithful God, who keeps covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations; 10 and repays them that hate Him to their face, to destroy them; He will not be slack to him that hate Him, He will repay him to his face. 11 Thou shall therefore keep the commandment, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day, to do them.

11. August 18th. Shofetim. Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

  • Moses tells people about the ways of establishing justice in their society – how to appoint judges, that two witnesses are needed before someone can be found guilty of a crime that warrants the death penalty. Serious cases involving homicide, or cases too difficult to decide must be transferred to a higher court.

  • There are regulations about how to choose future kings or leaders and a warning that these leaders must follow the laws of the Torah too.

  • He reviews the importance of the cities of refuge as safe places for people who have committed manslaughter.

  • He tells them about ways of telling the difference between real and false prophets.
  • Finally, he reviews rules to be observed at times of war.

Focal points:

    • The rules of war – when can going to war be ethical? How do armies have to behave to keep it ethical? What if the other side doesn’t play fair?

    • Debating the death penalty. (Note, in the Torah they require a higher court to make such a difficult decision. Later in Jewish history they got rid of the death penalty because they no longer felt they had courts who could make these kinds of decisions.)

    • False Prophets (see Prophets activity in handbook)

Prepared by Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz, PhD, Congregation B'nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT.

Program Title: Desert Discovery

Sub Title: HaTikvah – The Hope

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