Why the 5K Matters at Camp

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by Rachel Slaton, Associate Camp Director

A few weeks ago a camper asked me what running a 5K had to do with Tikkun Olam?  As a coach, educator and camp associate director, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect question … it was, in baseball terms, a meatball right down the middle!

In answering this question, three quotes came to mind. One is from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reflecting on the civil rights march in Selma when he said, “When I marched in Selma my feet were praying.”  The other is a biblical text from the final book of the Torah, D’varim,  which says “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” or Justice, Justice you shall pursue. The third is from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, “You are not obligated to complete the task but neither are you free to desist from it.”

So how did I boil down these big ideas?

At camp, we spend every day learning how big ideas like compassion, integrity and courage are relevant to us as Jewish athletes and these values come alive in tangible ways when we help up a fallen opponent, push to finish that last set of conditioning when no one is watching, and to keep trying even after we’ve struck out at our last 3 at bats. Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is another big idea that for many of our campers may seem out of reach or overwhelming.

After all, who am I to think I could change the world?

So what was my answer?

I told him that just one tiny action can have ripple effects that we may never know about. If the only action this camper took was to commit to finishing the 5K, that might be enough to change someone’s perspective. If each camper went home and told their parents about our partner organization, Play it Forward, and asked why some schools have money for PE equipment and some schools don’t, that could be enough.

For that one child receiving a soccer ball or baseball glove or basketball or jump rope – perhaps the first piece of usable sports equipment they’ve ever had access to – that could be the moment that changes their life.

So why do we run the Tikkun Olam 5K? Because it gives us the opportunity to pray with our feet, literally, and go home with a story to share and questions to ask. It may feel insignificant to run 3.1 miles but in the grand scheme of things, it could be those few miles that change just one person’s life for the better. We don’t have to fix everything, but if we can contribute something, even the tiniest spark can turn into a flame.