I talked to two informants who attended the same Jewish summer camp at two different times.
How did you alter aspects of prayers at camp?
Informant 1: “We change the words of Birkat Ha’Mazon [the after-meal prayer].”
Informant 2: “Though it’s different from when I was at camp before you.”
חֲבֵרַי נְבָרֵךְ Chaveirai n’vareich (Let us thank God)
- Informant 1: N/A
- Informant 2: Rubber tires never break
יְהִי שֵׁם יְיָ מְבֹרָךְ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹל Y’hi sheim Adonai m’vorach mei-atah v’ad olam. (Blessed is the name of God now and forever)
- Informant 1: N/A
- Informant 2: Naked swimming is illegal in the state of Idaho
בִּרְשׁוּת הַחֶבְרָה Birshut chaveirai (With Your permission)
- Informant 1: Your shoes have arrived
- Informant 2: Bear shit in your eye
לימשיכו Limshicho (The anointed one)
- Informant 1: Cream Cheese Balls
- Informant 2: N/A
Informant 1 is my twin sister. She attended this camp during the 2010s. Informant 2 is my mother. She attended this camp during the 70s. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.
In general, Jewish youth assign humorous English phrases to Hebrew ones to try and break up the monotonous prayers they are forced participate in throughout the day. At this camp, Birkat Ha’Mazon is said after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and saying it three times a day gets very old, very fast. Having silly jokes within the prayer makes it a lot more bearable to complete. When comparing the prayer alterations from Informant 1 to Informant 2, Informant 2’s alterations are far more inappropriate and cruder. This reflects the agenda of the camp administration to crack down on these alterations and make them more appropriate. Their biggest issue with these alterations is that they disrespect concepts involving God. If the administration would have it their way, there would be no alterations at all, but for now, they have settled for “Your shoes have arrived” because it is far better than “Bear shit in your eye.”
The informant is a member of an outdoors club on campus that has a tradition of doing “Peace and Chow” after every dinner they eat on trail. The informant says “Peach and Chow consists of the two guides of the trip organizing us into a circle. Then we grab hands, right over left to create a criss-cross effect. Once we’re are all connected anyone who is grateful for anything from the day sticks their foot into the middle of the circle. Then they say what they are thankful for. If anyone else in the circle agrees, they all wiggle back and forth. This continues until we’re done saying things we’re thankful for. Then someone in the group recites a quote, probably about nature. After the quote we pass the pulse, which starts from one of the guides squeezing the hand next to them and the squeeze makes it all around the circle. Once the circle is complete we unwind and it’s done”.
The club has existed on USC’s campus since 2008. Peace and Chow originated with the start of the club but no one knows the direct origin, who started it and why. On each trip there are always two guides and 8-10 participants. The guides are in charge of leading Peace and Chow and it is not required but heavily suggested they do it every trip.
The ritual of Peace and Chow happens after a meal, most likely dinner, when the group is out in the wilderness either at their campsite or in the backcountry. The informant described this as a ritual that held a lot of importance to them.
Food is common to surround with certain rituals. In terms of Christianity it is common to pray before every meal. Peace and Chow acts as sort of a “prayer” of thankfulness for these students on their outdoor adventures. It is also common in outdoor communities to try and feel in touch with one’s surroundings. This ritual helps the group remain in touch with each other and the land around them as they are able to grow closer as a group. This ritual creates a sense of community for people that were recently strangers. Food tends to have a way of bringing people together and this tradition adds to that feeling.
“At any major event, like weddings and parties, the order in which the food is served is very specific. First, all the children are served. Then, the main guests are served. These are like the important people at the party or the bride and groom and their families at a wedding. Once they all have their food and sit down, everyone else gets their food”.
In Kenya, guests at large events where meals are provided are served food in a specific order that must be followed. The events where this tradition takes place are usually gatherings such as parties and weddings. Children are fed first. They are then followed by the significant guests and the rest of the invitees. It is deemed disrespectful to not feed the children first.
The informant, Alastair Odhiambo, is a 19-year-old international student who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Alistair and his family have deep roots in the country, so he is confident that he knows a great deal about Kenyan folklore. He was taught this tradition by his mother, who was the parent that was responsible disciplining him and teaching him how to act appropriately in public. Alastair believes this tradition comes from the idea that children need the most amount of sustenance out of everyone else, since they are the most vulnerable. Adults want them to be able to have a long and healthy future, so they choose to wait to be served. To Alastair, this tradition reflects how Kenyans were forced to live before they became a modernized nation. Many children died at a young age, so it made sense to feed them first to hopefully prevent their early demise.
Like Alistair said, it is likely that the food scarcity problems Kenyans had to live through in the past influenced this tradition. Parents had to work extra hard to make sure that their children stayed healthy for as long as possible, so this tradition probably developed out of the desire to make this happen. Even though things like hospitals and modern medicine can help extend the lives of anyone nowadays, this idea seems to have stuck.