According to a popular legend, Ernest Hemingway was a guest at the famous Algonquin Round Table. He was challenged by the authors and playwrights to craft the shortest story possible. He had them all place bets. He took a napkin and wrote on it, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” He won the bet.
About 5 years ago Smith Magazine, the online storytelling magazine, took this urban legend and turned it into a challenge for the modern age. They asked their readers and contributors to share six word autobiographies.
Six words might seem incredibly limiting, but it can also be very profound. After all, six words is all it takes to say “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad,” the core of the Jewish religion.1
This morning, Jordyn ran a program for campers where they each had to come up with Six Word Memoirs for different topics. Here are some examples from this morning:
The common theme was survival and how great it is that Jews have survived through so much over our long history. One example from this category is: “Helps me learn where I’m from.”
A few campers also wrote about foods they don’t like (gefilte fish) and about not keeping kosher, but the most common themes were about specific foods that campers liked (including matzah ball soup, matzah brie, challah, and brisket) and about the warm community feeling that the foods evoked for them. For example, “makes me feel happy and warm” and “Feel connected while eating delicious food.”
A few campers wrote about how dumb Jewish jokes tend to be, some wrote about how funny they are, while many wrote about the fact that they did not understand Jewish jokes. A few campers referenced Yiddish, and two wrote down jokes—“Moses. Hebrews his own tea” and “Bobby was troubled because he Torah scroll.”
Most campers wrote about how Israel was a place that they could always count on and call home. A few wrote about Israel specifically as the spiritual homeland of the Jews. One camper admitted to not really liking Israel, while several said that they had not been there but were interested in going. Several also said that they did not feel particularly connected to Israel. One of the most unique six word statements was: “Israel is full of different cultures.”
Most campers wrote about the level of connection that they felt or the level of importance that Judaism had in their lives. A few of them wrote about religion as being more than just a connection to God. One camper wrote: “Praying is my life.” Others wrote about the confidence and acceptance that Judaism gave them: “Judaism makes me feel confident,” “I feel grounded with positive spirituality,” and “Makes me feel accepted—some ways.”
Most campers wrote about how much fun they have at camp. Another group wrote about singing and banging on the tables during meals and over Shabbat. Other campers wrote about the sense of community and the friendships that they have developed. A few wrote about camp as their home away from home. One camper wrote, “Jewish camp is a spiritual experience.”
Reading through these inspired me to leave you with Six Word Memoirs of our first few evening programs as well:
First night, tour camp, CHAI tiles.
Mixers in units. Imagination, communication, understanding.
Interviewing counselors. Who is guilty? Clue?
Human Pacman, Hungry Hippos, Battleship, Quidditch
Erev Shabbat. Services, dinner, song, dance.
Time with our cabins building connections.
1Rabbi Avi Orlow: Jewish Education Specialist, Foundation for Jewish Camp
Sarah Magida is our Chief Fun Officer. She has her Masters in Religious Education and Masters in Jewish Nonprofit Management from Hebrew Union College. She is also a graduate of Skidmore College where she studied American Studies and Religious Studies. She spent 11 summers as a camper and staff member at the URJ Eisner Camp. Sarah prides her self on completing the NY Times crossword puzzle each Monday.