Rabbi Ethan Linden
Well, I guess the author of Ecclesiastes was wrong. “There is nothing new under the sun,” that provocative pessimist famously wrote, and there are certainly times when those ancient words seem to have been written for our present moment. But this is not such an occasion. I’m definitely the new guy, and, as we all, know being new at Camp is no problem at all. In fact, if there is anything Camp loves, it’s newness. “Change more stuff!” is the cry we so often hear from our campers and staff. “Why are you always keeping everything the same?” (Not really)
Actually, the author of Ecclesiastes would have loved Camp, if only because it so often accords with his view of how the world works, “What is occurring occurred long since, and what is to occur occurred long since.” The author of Ecclesiastes actually means those words to sound despairing—the fact that nothing changes is part and parcel of his sense of futility—but any good Camp person knows that part of what makes the place impactful and transformative is the sense that what is great about Camp never does change. Programs change. Tunes change. People change. Buildings rise and fall—though hopefully more the former than the latter. But Camp stays the same. As a new director, my main responsibility is to keep Camp evolving and changing in ways that meet the current needs of its community without altering one iota the essence of the place itself. That is, of course, a deeply daunting task.
This summer, for example, a new Art Center (which we of the unchanging sort would refer to as Omanut) will stand in the very center of camp. The newness of the building is important: we will finally have the facility we need to really advance our art programming at camp. But what is also important to me is that the building represents something that is not at all new: Camp’s commitment to excellent programming in the service of a transformative camper experience. Here, as elsewhere, what is new must be in the service of what is old; our mission remains, the means of achieving that mission must change with the times in which we find ourselves.
In the end, the author of Ecclesiastes is both right and wrong. There are new things under the sun, and what is happening now is not always a pale reflection of what has already been. But, at Camp at least, the concept of “newness” must always be tempered by an appreciation for those values and traditions which are integral to why people love the place. In this sense, there should be nothing new under the sun. I look forward to working closely with our alumni community as we all seek to make certain that Camp always changes, but never feels entirely new. It is a complicated task, to be sure, but we are blessed with a strong and dedicated professional staff, an engaged lay leadership and a deeply committed alumni community. Camp will change. Camp will stay the same. There is, in the end, nothing new under the sun.