Camping Is A Part Of My Jewish DNA

I was taken aback when I read Peter Beinart’s article, “Is Judaism a Big Tent?” just a few days after returning from a four week kayaking trip with my daughter through our ancestral homeland of Lithuania. Each day, we paddled along Lithuanian rivers, large and small — the Neris, Levuo, Nevezis, Nemunas, and Minija — and each night, we camped on the bank in our well-used tent.

I have been backpacking, paddling, and tent camping for many years. I have hiked the Appalachian Trail, trekked in Nepal and Patagonia, and kayaked and canoed rivers across the United States. Here in my home state of Idaho, my family and I have spent countless nights happily ensconced in our tents on the slopes of the Northern Rockies. I have met other Jews on nearly all of these trips. Every one of them has known perfectly well how to set up a tent.

Beinart’s article perpetuates a stereotype born of too many Woody Allen movies. The notion that camping or farming is “not part of our Diaspora DNA” is just factually wrong. It’s also hurtful to the many American Jews who find spiritual nourishment in the natural world.

A.D. Gordon was an important Zionist thinker, but his understanding of Diaspora history as completely cut off from nature was, and remains, ill-conceived. The Zionists’ “New Jew” was not really all that new. Nearly every far-flung village in Lithuania that we passed through was once home to a thriving Jewish community. The Litvaks did not all live in Vilna and Kovno. They made their homes in the forests and along the rivers, in shtetlach such as Yaneve, Sapizishok, Babtai, Gorzd, and countless others. So, too, in Poland and the Ukraine. These Jews rowed rafts down the rivers, shipping timber to the Baltic Sea. They grew cucumbers, harvested and wove flax, and kept farm animals such as sheep, goats, and cows. Tevye the dairy man did not get his milk wholesale from a warehouse. And they built — and prayed and studied in — barn-like wooden synagogues, filled with gorgeous folk-art paintings of local flora and fauna.

That is my American Jewish spiritual DNA.

And for what it’s worth, unless you work for Sierra Designs or North Face or some other outdoor company, you do not construct or build a tent. You pitch it.

Rabbi Dan Fink is the rabbi of Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, Idaho.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Author

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Camping Is A Part Of My Jewish DNA

Thank you!

This article has been sent!

Close