This is the first installment in a series of blogs from our base camp staff. Each of the staff were asked how their area of camp (rock climbing, archery, horseback riding, etc) and Judaism was linked for them, and how they have brought the two together in their lives.
“What makes an archery class Jewish?” Whenever someone asks me this question, I reflect on how I have combined two integral aspects of my identity. When I became a competitive archer at Brandeis University, I convinced my teammates to compete on Sundays so as not to interfere with my Shabbat observance. For a while, this was the only connection between my newly acquired love of archery and my lifelong passion for Judaism.
Everything changed when I joined the archery staff at ROA in the summer before rabbinical school four years ago. I was excited to develop Jewish content for each archery lesson in keeping with camp’s core values. However, I didn’t want to focus on bible characters/stories about archery. I looked for additional Jewish sources and worked backwards from the archery skills as well.
For example, the first session of any archery class must cover range safety. I selected the Jewish value of refraining from lashon hara (gossip or evil speech) to accompany that first class. I devised activities which would help the chalutzim (campers) understand how the value related to archery. After the activity, I made sure to reinforce the lesson: once we release our arrows from the bow, we have little control over where they land and are unable to repair the damage caused by their sharp points after removing them from the targets. So too with our words! Once we say something, we have no control over how far our message will spread and who we may hurt in the process. Additionally, we may apologize but we can never fully take back the pain caused by harmful speech.
I love the challenge of incorporating Jewish values into my archery lessons and am grateful to ROA for sparking this interest in me. I have since expanded this project to other educational settings and have conferred archery certification to seven different camp counselors at ROA and elsewhere. I look forward to seeing the role archery will play in my rabbinate going forward!
Shira is a Rabbinical Student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a longtime Ramah archery instructor.