Words for the Wise – A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Dan Utley

Shabbat shalom!

Trip II of Camp Wise’s 115th summer is finally underway. We’ve reflected with our campers at various points this summer about Camp Wise’s unique history. As the third oldest Jewish overnight camp in the country, our story follows the development of Cleveland’s Jewish community. Camp Wise began (as most good Jewish organizations have) through the dedicated service of Jewish women’s groups who gathered forces to address a communal need. In the case of Camp Wise, it was initially intended to serve children from settlement homes and mothers with their infants who needed a countryside break from the crowded city heat to socialize and adjust to Jewish life as Americans in 1907. As Jewish Cleveland grew and assimilated, Jewish camping evolved, too. Today one of our core missions is to socialize children to love living in a Jewish environment. We help them develop Jewish identities and a connection to Klal Yisrael (Jewish people writ large).

Life in a Jewish community ideally revolves around shared sets of values and morals that guide our daily interactions – many of them rooted in the Torah. This summer we are spending intentional time and energy exploring the value of Kehillah (purposeful community). Each layer of camp – cabins, cabin staff, villages, leadership, head staff, etc. represent concentric circles of communities that intertwine creating the fabric of our camp. As I met with our Noar campers (8th-9th graders) yesterday for our “director chat” I spoke about how the three weeks of Trip II represents a precious opportunity and challenge: our communal experience at camp is a reflection of each individual interaction we have with each other. The more positive and kind our words are moment to moment, the more positive and kind our whole community will be. It’s the small pieces that matter – how we respond when we are stressed, how we listen, how we empathize, how we demonstrate compassion.

In Parashat Balak – this week’s torah portion, the sorcerer, Balaam lets his anger and impatience get the best of him. In a moment of haste he ignores God’s presence in his midst and hits his donkey who has frozen in its path. This represents a great teaching moment for us. Each day (even at camp) we have lots to take care of and many people to see and communicate with. When we are rushing from place to place with too much on our minds, we risk becoming short with people and we risk missing the most important opportunities that stand before us.

From person to person our capacity for patience, compassion, kindness, and grace allows us to see God’s light in each other’s eyes. Shabbat, our day of rest, helps us remember to slow down, to deeply listen, and to open our eyes to possibility and hope. As we build our Kehillah (our community) this trip – our opportunity and challenge reverberates through the generations of Camp Wise’s 115 years. These next three weeks, it’s up to us to develop the camp magic – from our smallest interactions to our largest cheers. Let’s make our history proud, Camp Wise!

Shabbat shalom, – Rabbi Dan

Check out our awesome cabins this trip!

Chalutzim: Chalutzim Trip II has officially begun! We started out the session with unpacking our belongings, getting to know our cabin mates, and our entire village. We had a great first night that featured bunk night and a whole camp campfire. A storm never stopped anyone from having the best first day ever! Our first evening program featured the best of the best Disney characters, which is our cabin theme. Together, each cabin dressed up their counselors and created a cheer & sign to present to the whole village. We paraded around camp and celebrating the end of our first full day with a campfire. We can’t wait for our first Shabbat together! 


Ohalim had a great first few days of trip 2! We’ve been enjoying many games of gaga and roofball now that it’s been sunny. Last night, we had our Battle of the Boy Bands where we created dances and also learned about different people, places, and things in camp!


Noar has had an amazing first few days!!! We found out our village theme: the periodic table of elements, we raised our counselors from birth to the retirement home in our bitlife evening program, and prepared for Noar Shabbat which starts today.

We’re super excited for Shabbat and for an incredible first full week!

Solel: Solel has had an awesome start to the session! We got to start the summer with rides on the jet ski and tubing behind it and we had so much fun! We’re looking forward to our first Shabbat and can’t wait to see what the rest of the session brings!