In an oft quoted article by Mark Twain on the Jews, he wrote:
…If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it … What is the secret of his immortality?” (“Concerning The Jews,” Harper’s Magazine, 1899)
Mark Twain seems to capture what has meant to be a Jew in history. For us survival is just not enough, we need to contribute. But, what is our secret?
In our tradition there is a blessing one says on the occasion of seeing 600,000 or more Jews together. While it is hard to imagine why our tradition has a blessing for what seems to be such a rare occasion, what interests me most is the blessing that we say. It goes:
Baruch Ata Adonay Elokenu Melech HaOlam Khacham HaRazim
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who knows the secrets
God is identified as the one who knows all of our secrets. But still I ask, what are all of these secrets?
Simply put, we are a family. The Jewish community is not just an imagined community, it is a real community. I know this from my work in Jewish Camp. Not just because of the profound feeling of belonging that thousands of campers and hundreds of staff feel every summer, but also from our partnership with the Gift of Life. The Gift of Life is a bone marrow registry that targets the Jewish community which shares a remarkable number of DNA, not often found on other registries. Over that last few years the Foundation for Jewish Camp has partnered with the Gift of Life for “Finding the HERO in You at Camp,” a program to educate and get as many camp staff on the registry as possible. The camps’ staff is the ideal candidate for the registry. They are young, healthy, and ideologically preconditioned to donate if they match. At their local camps they are talking about belonging to the Jewish family. Joining the registry is a great way of actualizing our most basic shared value.
With the simple swabbing of your cheek you give the registry the information to determine if you are a potential match for someone who is suffering from a life threatening disease. To date there have been three matches found from camp drives. Two of these matched where from URJ GUCI and one from Camp Pinemere. One of the ones from GUCI was requested for transplant. Jewish camp is saving lives. This is an exercise in our being a family. Our work with the Gift of Life is helping us achieve immortality by our collective morality. With each cheek swab we reveal more of the secret of our being a family. That surely merits a blessing.
To hear more about Gift of Life and Finding the HERO in You at Camp, we suggest you watch the following video which is shown to staff members at swabbing events:
-Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow is the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp