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Many of the campers who attend Massad in the summer return to the camp for Rosh Hashanah. This photo is taken during second session 2010.


By Sharon Chisvin

As many North American synagogues report dwindling attendance at High Holiday services, Camp Massad’s annual second day on-site Rosh Hashanah service seems to grow year after year.

Camp Massad is a Hebrew immersion Zionist camp located 90 kilometers north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Founded in 1953, it has always prided itself on its sense of community and celebration of Judaism, two concepts perfectly embodied by its New Year’s service.

The service, which has been held at Massad for 16 years, took place on Friday morning, September 10. Informal, kid-friendly and participatory, it offered a perfect balance of traditional prayers, contemporary readings and recitations. As in past years, it was led by Hebrew bilingual elementary school teacher Leah Braemer, with the assistance and musical direction and accompaniment of Miriam Baron and Shelley Werner, and the Camp Massad Alumni Choir.

This year 170 people signed up to attend the service.

The appeal of the service is easy to understand. The atmosphere was very relaxed and joyful, the readings and reflections were in both Hebrew and English, the songs and melodies were familiar, and a sense of fun and goodwill permeated all of the proceedings. Most importantly, everyone in the congregation was encouraged and expected to participate.

Children especially were given a major role to play in the service. They were frequently called upon to lead responsive readings and reflect on philosophical questions, and also were invited to gather around the shofar blower and march behind the Torah that is kept at the camp for Shabbat services.

Traditionally, instead of a formal Torah reading at the service, a group of Camp Massad alumni performs a shtick that in some way relates to the major themes of the holiday.

“The shtick is anything but irreverent,” explained Baron, who co-wrote this year’s script with Werner. “The intent, through humour and a broad based interpretation, is to make the Torah alive and meaningful for us, to provide a contemporary message, with a historical, and perhaps even hysterical, perspective.” 

This year’s shtick cleverly parodied the ubiquitous New Year’s Eve ‘year in review’ shows. It featured interviews with environmentalist Al Gore-nisht and literary critic Booker Prize, and a clip from the blockbuster 3D movie Aveenutar, a film about Abraham and Isaac.
 “The warm, informal atmosphere is inviting and makes people feel comfortable,” Braemer says in explaining the popularity of the Massad service. “The music and singing invite participation from all members and from all ages, and there's a strong sense of belonging to a community.”

This sense of community was especially evident at this year’s service during two particularly poignant moments. The first occurred when a beaming young couple proudly brought their infant daughter up to the bima for her Simchat haBat, or baby naming.

 The second occurred when about a dozen Camp Massad staff and campers stood together to sing a tribute song for Gilad Shalit that had been written during a camp program earlier in the summer. With lyrics expressing the hope that Shalit will soon be safely returned home, the song seemed a fitting way in which to herald in a New Year.

After the service, many of the congregants braved the rain and cold to walk across the street to Lake Winnipeg and symbolically cast off their sins in a tashlich ceremony. Following a final blast of the shofar, they returned to the camp for a Kiddush luncheon and the chance to mingle with family, friends and other community members in a relaxed and friendly holiday atmosphere.


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