Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:
I've just returned to camp from yet another weekend "on the road," showing the
camp slide show, talking to interested parents and kids about our program, and
in general doing whatever it is that I do when I visit one of our communities.
This weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time with a young rabbi. We
spoke, at length, of the rabbinate, his career, and many other things. During
the conversation he made a statement which startled me. He said something to
this affect ,"I've decided that it is no longer important to me to be the
greatest rabbi in the world." He went on to explain that he was not motivated
to do what many of his classmates were doing. Some of his contemporaries feel
that it is very important to move on to very large and prestigious
congregations, earn very large salaries, and become that rabbi-on-a-pedistal we
have all met. What my young friend was telling me was that this is the way
many rabbis measure their success.
But let's not just point our fingers at our rabbis (most of the rabbis who fit
the above description work incredibly hard and are very dedicated. Otherwise
they wouldn't be able to handle the tremendous demands of a large
congregation). How do we measure success in our own lives? How many of us
believe that success is in direct proportion to the size of one's salary.
Look, I'm a realistic person. I know that material things are important to us
all. I want to drive a nice car, have a VCR, etc. But what if I don't? Does
that mean that I am a failure? And what about you? Is your measure of success
a 4.0 GPA, the most prestigious sorority or fraternity, the coolest boy or
girlfriend? What will it take in your life to make you feel like you've "made
The conversation I had with my young rabbi friend was ironic, because he is a
very successful rabbi. He, in particular, has a tremendous effect on all those
who come in contact with him. He is making a difference, helping people,
teaching, and leading. Sometimes we need to listen to our own hearts, and pay
less attention to external pressures. Perhaps the real measure of success lies
in how we strive to make this world a better place, how we help those around
us, and how true we are to ourselves. Maybe the measure of success is in how
hard we try, rather than how high we climb. Its something to think about.
Wednesday, November 1, 1989
Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:
I happened to catch about twenty minutes of the Phil Donohue show yesterday,
the guest was the famous entertainer George Burns. Mr. Burns is 93 years old
and has been in the entertainment business since he was a boy. You might have
seen some of the old George Burns and Gracie Allen TV shows, usually rerun at 2
or 3 a.m., I was raised on them. When asked by someone in the audience
yesterday about how Mr. Burns maintained his interest in his profession over so
many years he replied, "Whatever you do in life, you gotta love your work." In
one short sentence, George Burns summarized many thoughts I have been having
over the past few years.
I have often been asked by my Rabbinic collegues, and by others who have known
me for some time, how I can keep up my enthusiasm for camp after so many
years. Next summer will be my sixteenth here at the Goldman camp. But, I've
really been involved in Union Camping all my life. It all began when I first
went to Union Institute (now Olin-Sang-Ruby) in Oconomowoc, Wis. as a camper in
1958. That led to fifteen summers at that camp before I came to Zionsville.
I've been a camper, Machonick, Counselor, Waterfront Director, Unit Head (for
six summers), Program Director, Assistant Camp Director, and Camp Director.
While many of the people with whom I graduated H.U.C. in 1977 have changed jobs
two, three, and four times, I began my directorship at Goldman Camp while still
studying in Cincinnati and here I have stayed. I guess they consider me
strange (no doubt so do some of you).
Well, George Burns answered the question. "You gotta love your work." I am a
very lucky person to have a job I love. Each summer has been different,
challenging in its own way, and above all never boring. Sure every job has its
negatives, I spend many weekends on the road for camp, summertime backyard
barbecues are unknown to my family, I eat, sleep, and breathe with 300 other
people for eleven weeks each summer, I work when other "normal" people are off
(weekends and summer) so my family's social life is difficult. Never-the-less
I'm lucky because I love my work.
I just returned from the U.A.H.C. Biennial in New Orleans. Four thousand
Reform Jews convened for this convention. Personally, it was an exhilarating
experience. In addition to just being a part of this great gathering, I ran
into so many camp people from all of my years in Union Camping. Among them
were Rabbis Jim Bennett, Jon Stein, Jon Adland, Steve Foster, Sam Joseph, Lewis
Kamrass, Gerry Walter (Gerry and I were co-counselors in 1965), Chet Diamond,
Billy Dreskin, Sol Greenberg, Steve Fuchs, Steve Fink, Michael Zedek, Danny
Gottlieb, Gary Zola along with Mark Glickman, Joel Block, Sherri Oppenheim,
Stacey and Jeff Linkon, Debbie Morgan. David Barrett, Ronnie Brockman, and
Sharon Katz. There were many, many more. My heart swelled every time someone
recalled their fond memories of time spent in camp. So many good feelings and
warm memories. I'm lucky to have a job that brings me in contact with
wonderful people. And I'm lucky to have the opportunity to be creative, and
Most of you will be starting your careers in the next few years. The choices
you make are among the most important of your life. I hope you'll be as lucky
as I've been. As you venture out into the world remember that money is
important, but its not everything. And remember George Burns, 93 years old,
sitting with his cigar, telling it like it is; "Whatever you do in life, you
gotta love your work."
Friday, September 1, 1989
Dear Family and Friends:
Well, this blog of mine seems to have reached a sort of milestone. As of today it has been opened 60,540 times. Thanks to Linda Ross Brenner who started me on this path a couple of years ago (she argued. "you need a blog to preserve all of your 'Staff Letters' for your grandchildren." How could I refuse?). So for the sake of nostalgia, even though it isn't throw back Thursday, here's the first old Staff Letter...or the oldest i could find.
Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:
Now that most of us are back to it in the world of school and work, footballs
are (thank goodness) finally flying, and thoughts of last summer surround
themselves with a hazy glow, it may be an appropriate time to consider our own
personal religious connections. For me, the autumn (perhaps my favorite season
of the year) is a season of conflict. On the one hand, it is such a colorful
season and vigorous time of the year that I feel uplifted, kind of ready to
start tackling the challenges and opportunities of the next camp year. On the
other hand however, I most certainly feel a Jewish letdown with the ending of
camp and all of its intensity and spirit. These mixed feelings have led me to
thoughts concerning our ongoing Jewish connections and commitments.
I have often heard the saying "It's hard to be Jewish," and accepted it as a
matter of fact. Now I wonder if that acceptance isn't just an excuse to lay
off some of the burdens of Jewish living. It is hard to be Jewish because we
have to go out of our way to be it. I think this is especially true for those
of us living on campus. As I recall, my undergraduate years were almost a
complete vacation from Jewish activity. During those years, camp was my
"Jewish fix" and had to last me from one summer to the next. My new found
college "freedom" allowed me to exercise a certain rebellion against anything
"organized" and/or "institutional" like my synagogue, or even Shabbat services
on campus. Looking back on that time now, I realize that those feelings
created a void in my life that even camp couldn't fill.
The Rabbis tell us that one cannot be Jewish alone; that a Jew must be a part
of his or her Jewish community. The great Rabbi Hillel taught, "Do not
separate yourself from the community." I would argue that one must be able to
first be Jewish alone, before he/she can really connect with the community.
Being Jewish in your own heart and mind, carrying with you a sense of
Jewishness, yes, even "Looking at the world through Jewish eyes," is the first
essential ingredient in that catch-all phrase we use so often, "Jewish
I hope that the spirit and sense of community we built together at
camp this summer helps each of us feel Jewish in our hearts and minds. But I
also agree that this is not enough. Ultimately the Rabbis are correct. Jews
need other Jews. Consider sharing your Jewishness with others. Just as it is
at camp, your own spirit can be renewed and enhanced when it is shared.
As the High Holy Days approach, I hope you will think of the warm and wonderful
Jewish community we created together this summer at G.U.C.I. I also hope that
same spirit will move you to make your place among our extended Jewish family.
Along with many of the important things life has to offer us, being a part of
Klal Yisrael can be most fulfilling. When it is, being Jewish ceases to be a
burden and becomes a gift.
I wish you and your family all the best in the coming new year. L'Shannah Tova,