Shablog — The Importance of Being a Mensch

We are excited to share the first of the summer’s Shablog posts, which will be a series on The Pipeline blog dedicated to Jewish content and shared on Shabbat. Some of you might remember that the Shablog used to be the name of Tawonga’s blog. Well, we didn’t want to let it go entirely, so are bringing it back on this special day set apart in the week. This week, one of our Assistant Directors, Aaron Mandel shares his thoughts on the importance of being a mensch. Enjoy.

The Importance of Being a Mensch

Written by Aaron Mandel, Assistant Director

Here at Camp Tawonga, instilling a connection to spirituality and Judaism is a crucial aspect of our mission. It is for this reason that each summer we select a “Jewish theme” with which to enhance our Jewish programs and learning. This year we chose to explore the value of Derech Eretz. The value literally translates to “Way of the Land”, however it is often used in the context of being a “mensch” — in other words, exhibiting decent behavior to those around you.

In previous summers, we have explored the values of Ahavat Ger (Loving the Stranger), Ometz Lev (Courage of the Heart), Shomrei Adamah (Guardians of the Land), B’tzelem Elohim (all are created in the image of G-d) among others.

One of the main times we explore the summer’s Jewish value is during a program we call “Tawonga Ruach”, activities in which all units participate before Shabbat. During this time, units meet with our Jewish Program Director, Laura, who teaches them about this value through an interactive activity. We believe this helps campers relate this Jewish value to their lives and to their experience at camp.

Today at our Saturday afternoon Shabbat program we made what we call “Mensch Prayer Flags” out of colorful tissue paper. The beautiful flags will be on display in our garden later in the week. In order to make the artwork, each bunk talked over the many Jewish values that go into making mensches and examined Rabbi Avi Orlow’s “Periodic Table of Making Mensches”.

According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, before the Torah was established, there were 26 generations where people had to learn how to live together and function without the wisdom and guidance of the Torah. How can this happen? By thinking through your actions and choices and measuring yourself up to the place you find yourself in, you can learn the communal expectations and help to create a more just society.  When you realize Derech Eretz comes before Torah, it gives responsibility to everyone to act the right way and do the right thing.

As Derech Eretz is a way of guiding moral choice, we want to instill this value in campers. Here at Camp Tawonga, part of our mission is to create a sense of belonging and community and one way to do that is to teach individuals to treat each other with respect, acceptance, and kindness. We believe teaching Derech Eretz can truly inspire campers to be their best selves.

Below are photos of tonight’s camper talent show! It was a fantastic day and we are so excited for what’s in store tomorrow.