“That Machane Life” – Josh Daniel

Last month I had the privilege to lead winter machane for the first time and it was incredible. One of the kevutzot on this particular camp involved talking about the various things madrichim sacrifice for B’nei Akiva and the perceptions of those sacrifices in university. We all went around the table and wrote down the things we had given up to come on machanot: family time, exam results, internships etc. We talked about why we do it and what other people think of it (you’re clearly a bit crazy and hate free time?). So why do we do it? That’s what I hope to touch upon in this article.     

I think machane is a microcosm for everything we want our lives to be.

I fell in love with B’nei Akiva the month before I started my first year of university. People are always slightly shocked at that date—“it’s a bit late to get properly involved in a youth movement”. But I think I’ve learnt so much about myself on the few weeks of my life that I’ve spent on machane—every memory is so valuable to me.  

I feel like my shevet may have begun to enter those years where enthusiasm and keenness for B’nei Akiva often tends to unfortunately decrease and apathy tends to increase. But I feel like I’ve only just started this journey.

With every machane I take, I feel more connected to B’nei Akiva and I’m more amazed with what it has the power to do.

—Josh Daniel, Shevet Avichai

Everyone knows that camp can be fun and meaningful and exciting. But after this particular camp I had a long think about why I really hold it in such high regard. Why do you remember every moment on machane with so much more clarity and intensity than other memories in your life? Why does it all go by so fast? What’s that feeling you always get when you see someone you really connected with on machane outside of a camp context?

Here’s what I’ve pinned it down to. I think machane is a microcosm for everything we want our lives to be. I think it amplifies and accentuates all the elements that we would imagine in our ‘ideal life.’ It’s a place where, for a short period of time, you can really live life in the fullest sense of the word. Allow me to explain.

The microcosm

I’ll start with productivity. As a madrich on machane, you are basically on duty 24/7—doing something productive with your time, all the time. Whether it’s chilling with chanichim, making stuff for your next activity or having important discussions in the mads room, you’re practically always doing something. Never will you get the opportunity to sit down and watch a bit of Netflix or have a lie-in. You are constantly productive. Imagine taking that level of productivity and transposing it onto your life—imagine how little time we would all waste. You would come out of every day feeling fulfilled. That’s one way I want to bring machane into my life.

The second is to do with how we relate to other people. A wise older student once made the observation to me at university that when you live on your own, it’s so much easier to only look out for yourself. Similarly it’s so much easier to see how everyone very much looks out for themselves. Peoples’ aims are to get a degree to benefit them in some way, to get good exam results etc. On machane it’s the complete opposite. You are thrust into an environment where suddenly everyone is looking out for each other. It’s your job to look out for chanichim as well as other madrichim on the tzevet. Madrichim can be helping each other where they need it and picking up each other’s slack where it lies—an extremely caring environment can be created. As a result relationships are formed more quickly and they feel so real as opposed to superficial. People are more willing to come up and introduce themselves on pre-camp. Imagine transposing that caring, relationship-forming environment to university or life in general. Communities would be cohesive units as opposed to a bunch of people thrust together, all looking out for themselves. People would be more open about introducing themselves to others and the relationships we would form would be less superficial. Imagine that world. 

Rebellion

Another discussion we had around our pre-camp table this winter was to do with rebellion. We discussed the history of B’nei Akiva and how, when it started, it was considered a rebellious movement. Granted, the meaning of being a tnua is that we change over time and B’nei Akiva bogrim certainly aren’t rebels in the same way they were when we started. But have we lost all sense of rebellion as a movement? Are we rebels without a cause? Madrichim around the table answered differently—“we’re rebelling against Judaism that is anti all modern values”; “we’re rebelling against assimilation”; or “we’re fighting for women to play a more active role in the orthodox community”. All of those things are true but it was only right at the end of machane that I realised what we’re really rebelling against. 

At one of our last dinners, Rafi Cohen, the mazkir, got up on his bench to make an extremely powerful and passionate speech. He was at the top of his voice, a voice that completely filled the room with his presence, a room that was totally silent. At one point in the speech he said:

“…BECAUSE IN A WORLD WHERE NO ONE CARES, 
IN A WORLD RELUCTANT TO MAKE CHANGE, 
IN A WORLD THAT TRIES 
TO TAKE AWAY ANYTHING 
FOR PEOPLE TO BELIEVE IN, 
HERE AT B’NEI AKIVA, 
WE BELIEVE IN SOMETHING! 
WE CARE ABOUT SOMETHING!” 

It was at that moment I realised what we are rebelling against. It’s a word I already used at the beginning of this article. Apathy. 

Apathy

That’s my last awesome thing about machane—defeating apathy. Every moment feels meaningful and it gives people something to care about. Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael and all under the umbrella of Torat Yisrael. Every davening becomes a bit more meaningful, everyone looks forward to shabbat, chanichim want to learn and madrichim want to give and we create this unbelievably meaningful environment.

It’s an apathy-conquering environment, just as B’nei Akiva is an apathy-conquering movement.

When your tochnit starts in ten minutes and you make that choice to continue decorating the room with that final touch, that bit of paint that the chanichim might not even notice, you do it anyway because you care. It’s an environment that makes people care. Imagine transposing this kind of emotional drive to our daily lives. Imagine getting rid of that can’t-be-bothered attitude and caring as much about your daily pursuits as you do every activity on machane. Imagine transcribing that level of meaning to every moment in your life. I think that would be pretty amazing.

Two Messages

There are two messages I’d like you to take from this. 

Firstly, if you can, if you’re on the fence, apply to take machane this summer. Re-experience disneylanding a tochnit to the extent that you convince yourself you’re in the world you’ve created. Re-experience a place where it’s okay to get up on your chair and turn a meal into a musical. Re-experience a group of people who are all always looking out for each other and throw yourself into a role where your job is literally to care about other people all the time. Re-experience this apathy-conquering rebellion. Realise that whatever camp you go on you will re-experience all these things as well as make new memories. Realise that entertaining chanichim in a field near Prague or Cape Town or on a coach in Israel, is exactly the same as entertaining chanichim in a field in Yorkshire.

I’ve been on four machanot now. 
One was in Israel, 
one was in Switzerland, 
one was in South Africa, 
but my favourite one was in a field in Wales. 
Don’t let anything stop you from re-experiencing, 
and re-immersing yourself 
in the amazing world 
of machane

A second message is even more important. Over the past year I’ve been blessed with meeting lots of amazing people. I’ve met Jewish students all around the country who are involved in their university Jewish Societies and giving up hours of their time, cooking for tens of people every Friday night. I’ve met people with regular jobs in the business world who use the few holiday days they have to take Jewish teenagers to Poland. I’ve witnessed people in shuls around the country turn kabbalat shabbat from a ritualistic habitual chant into a tsunami of musical and spiritual energy. I’ve had teachers who would put in hours of unpaid time after school to ensure our lessons the next day were as amazing as possible. I’ve met parents who Disneyland their children’s worlds to the extent that they live in the magical universes they create. I’ve met families who still turn their shabbat meals into musicals. I’ve met people who are really always looking out for each other and constantly make it their job to care about other people all the time. I’ve met people still part of this apathy-conquering rebellion.

These people, to varying degrees, have made their lives into machane

This winter I had to come to terms with the fact that we can’t all go on machane forever. B’nei Akiva is a youth movement and that’s what makes it so awesome. The journey that I only started so recently will, in all but a few years’ time, draw to a close. But it won’t really. It’s the abundance of people, the amazing people that I’ve introduced you to above that help me know that it will never really draw to a close. 

Life is the best of all machanot

This winter machane I was up late one night in the madrichim’s room. Rafi Cohen and Eli Maman were there. They calculated that they had both spent almost an entire year of their lives on machane. Crazy right? But I think because of who they are, because of the type of people they are, they’ve really spent a lot longer on machane. There are people all around the country immersing themselves in the characteristics, the values and the experiences you get and give on camp in their daily lives. They are, knowingly or unknowingly, living that machane life. And that’s the major message. Life is the best of all machanot. On machane it’s so easy to see what you want your life to be. Have that vision in front of you the whole time by living it.

Do it quickly. It can sometimes feel like life goes by almost as quickly as camp.

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