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Saturday, December 1, 1990

Chanukah Gifts

 
                                                                                    December, 1990

Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


Ah yes; Chanukah is upon us once again.  And we all know why this is such an
important holiday, right?  The re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, Judah
Maccabee and his gang kicking some Assyrian you-know-what in 164 B.C.E., the
miracle of the oil.  WRONG!  Come on, let's be honest...G I F T S is what it is
all about.  I've been thinking about some of the presents I've received and for
which I am most thankful.  Here is my list (and I'm checking it twice):


CHANUKAH

DAY ONE:  My wife Juca, with whom I will celebrate our 20th anniversary this
month.  That's twenty summers at camp, an inestimable number of weekends alone
while her husband runs off to Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, etc. to promote camp with
slides and stories, thousands of late night phone calls from teenagers hoping
for a summer job or seeking consolation for not receiving one.  And all the
while, making my house a home and raising two seemingly well-adjusted boys
(that in itself these days is reason to be proud).  Juca's the real Jewish
educator of the family, where it's hard to be, in the classroom and at home. 
Through the highs and lows, for twenty years its been "Me and the Juc."

DAY TWO:  My boys, Jeremy and Michael.  My constant source of joy, worry,
humor, sport, music, and laughter. A person couldn't ask for two better kids. 


DAY THREE:  Evelyn Klotz, who, for the past 45 years has put up with a most
rebellious and unorthodox son. And Arnold Klotz, whose memory is indeed a
blessing; whose face I see every morning when I see myself in the mirror, and
whose sense of humor continues to warm my heart.


DAY FOUR: My Reform Judaism, which has given me a creative way to practice an
ancient way of life and has been my link to both past and future.


DAY FIVE:  Goldman Union Camp Institute.  Everyone needs something to believe
in... I've got camp.  This place has been a constant source of inspiration.  As
the old Zionist song goes, "A place to build and be built by."  From G.U.C.I. I
have been given the gift of many, many good friends, and a few great friends.


DAY SIX:  Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Milt Jackson, Oscar Peterson, Ella
Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz,
Cannonball Aderley, Sonny's Stitt and Rollins, Jimmy Coe, Gerry Milligan, Sarah
Vaughn, Frank Sinatra, Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes, Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman,
Bob Gibson, John Lennon, Woody Guthrie, Paul Simon, etc.; the music of my life.


DAY SEVEN:  My late night companions; McBain, Mitchner, Salinger, Tolstoy, Uris,
Wilder, Le Carre, and a hundred others whose words bring me comfort and
emotion, entertainment and introspection.


DAY EIGHT:  All my friends from Hollywood; from Brando to Hoffman, Bette Davis
to Mel Brooks, from Robert De Niro to Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason, Coppula to
Reiner, Streep to Belushi, and almost everyone in-between who feed my not-so-
secret passion, the movies.


My "Special Gifts List" could go on, but after all, Chanukah's only eight days
long.  Say, how's your list shaping up?


Chag Sameach!

Ron

P.S.  Last year my kids gave me a Bears sweater.  God help me, I do love those
Bears.

Thursday, November 1, 1990

Speaking of Sex

                                                                                           


                                                                                      November, 1990


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


Gilda Radner's Roseanne Roseannadanna always ended her long monologues on
Saturday Night Live by concluding, "It just goes to show you, if it's not one
thing it's something else...."  In my experience, it's usually something else,
and you never know when that something else is going to happen. 


A few weeks ago, I was asked to be part of a panel of "experts" for a program
on teenage sexuality being held by Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation's youth
group.  The other two panelists were a local high school psychology teacher and
a nurse from the same high school.  I guess I was the Judaism and sexuality
spokesperson.  In any event, I went to the program confident that I was
somewhat of an expert, having worked lo these many years with teenagers at camp
(some of whom actually confide in me on these matters), having fathered two
strapling lads myself, and having read a fair amount on what Judiasm has to say
about sex and sexuality.


But one never knows when the teacher is going to be taught by the students, and
that's what happened to me that night.  We spoke at length that evening about
the "normal" teenager/sexuality subjects; making good decisions, peer pressure,
sexually transmitted diseases, etc.  
 It was when we began talking about
parent-teenager relationships that it happened.  The actual subject of the
moment was, "Why most teenagers feel uncomfortable discussing sex and their own
sexuality with their parents."  One of the youth groupers (who I'm proud to say
is also a member of our camp staff) raised her hand and offered one of the most
astute observations about the parent-child relationship.  She said,
"Perhaps kids have so much trouble speaking to their parents about sex because
we consider sex an adult topic and children are uncomfortable speaking to
adults about "adult" things." 


 From my perspective, this also points out that adults are uncomfortable hearing their children speak of things which are perceived to be out of character for kids.  Sex is an adult topic.  Kids are kids.  Therefore, teenagers are uneasy speaking in front of their
parents, just as their parents are uneasy hearing about and talking about sex
with their own children.  Yet it seems easier for a teenager to talk to someone
else's parents, and for a parent (like myself) to talk to someone else's
children about sex.  Why?  Perhaps it's very difficult for us parents to see
our own children grow up and begin dealing with those things which are part of
the "Adult" world.  It makes us feel old, and it reminds us that our children
don't need us in the same way they did when they were little.  And every parent
cherishes the memories of their chlidren as babies, toddlers, and youngsters. 
We parents would like you to grow up much more slowly.


I think that one of the reasons being a camp director is so interesting is that
there is so much to be learned each year.  I know that I teach others, and that
makes me feel good.  But inevitably, each summer, or at any given program or
meeting or class, I learn from you.  Its exciting.  You never know when someone
will say something that will blow you away intelectually, and provide you with
food for thought for weeks after.  "It just goes to show you..........."


Ron

Monday, October 1, 1990

The High Tech Age


                                   
                                                                                                      

                                                                                           October, 1990


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


I hope this letter finds you all safely back at school, dealing well with the
tensions and delights of campus life.  Camp is most beautiful now.  But even as
the leaves turn, our thoughts are turning to next summer and plans are
beginning to be made.  If you have any suggestions regarding our program,
procedures, etc. I'd love you to send them to me so we can consider them as we
construct what I hope will be another fantastic summer here at G.U.C.I.

Driving to camp this morning, I stopped for gas and was, once again, confronted
with yet another high-tech experience.  The station I usually stop at has
changed over to computerized credit card machines.  You put your card into the
machine, pump your gas (and, of course, marvel at the speed with which the
numbers roll around and add up in the dollars column), pull out your receipt,
and hit the road.  No muss, no fuss, no human contact.  Next stop, the bank
machine.  Insert card and punch in numbers, walk away with a crisp new twenty
dollar bill.  Again, no muss, no fuss.  No precious time lost saying things
like "Good morning," or "How are you," or "How about those Bears."  No tellers,
no attendants, just efficient machines.


Those of you who know me know that I feel our camp is a refuge from the
impersonal, high-technology, isolation-inducing world around us.  That, in this
age of high speed, high gloss, high fibre, and hi/bye relationships, the
community we build here is more valuable to us and our kids than it has ever
been in the past.  But the reality is that we can't avoid the technological
world, even here at camp.  Hey!  I'm writing these words on a word processor. 
The mailing list for these letters will be generated from our computer (which
happens to be about six years old and was recently referred to by a computer
expert as "An antique."), and the postage will be stamped on the envelope by
machine.  So what am I griping about anyway? 


Perhaps technology is not the culprit after all, but rather how we use it, or how we are seduced by it.  When we allow our machines to replace human interaction we not only become a slave
to the technology, but we forget how to participate in some of our most basic
human emotional needs, like conversations and creative intellectual discussions
(like arguing about politics etc.). We start to feel lonely and depressed.

But when technology becomes a means to further our contact and communication
with our fellow human beings, it can be a blessing.  Processing a mailing like
this would have taken several days B.C. (before computer).  I probably wouldn"t
have started writing these staff letters, as a matter of fact, I didn't write
to our staff before I mastered the word processor. 


 So I guess it's all in how we decide to use the technology and in how we refuse to be used by it.  That's it!  So the next time I buy gas, I'm going to use the credit card machine like
before, but I'll stick my head in the door and say good morning to the
attendant, for the sake of humanity.  And I'll be happy about our becoming a
high-tech camp--so we can keep in better touch--ya, that's the ticket.  So if
you want to, send me a FAX on our new machine at 317-873-3742 (no bull). 


You know, technology could be fun.

Ron

Tuesday, May 1, 1990

Ordination and a Wedding

                                                                                                               May, 1990


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


I hadn't planned on writing you again until next fall, what with the onset of
the summer, preparations, anxieties, et al; but here I go again.  I want to
relate to you a mixed bag of intense emotions I'm feeling at this moment, all
derived in different ways from connections to our camp.


I'm writing to you from an United Airlines jet, 39,000 feet in the air,
westbound to L.A.  I am not only enroute to officiate at the wedding of one of
our staff members of many years, a kid working maintenance (pre-Avodah) when I
walked in sixteen years ago, who is presently a Reform Jewish Educator; but
only a few hours ago I watched the Rabbinic Ordination of two other G.U.C.I.
staff alunmni in Cincinnati.  One of these "New Rabbis" came to our camp as an
Anaf camper, won the lead in Project that session, and stuck around for eleven
more summers.  So I find myself in a unique emotional state, somewhere between
an ordination and a wedding, somewhere between the childhoods and adulthoods of
people with whom I've lived, laughed, worked, and played these many years at
camp...and beyond.  I feel as though I am watching Judaism grow up before my
very eyes, and I'm awed by it.  As a Rabbi, my heart swells to welcome two of
"our kids" into the fold of "Teachers in Israel." As a Jew, I'm struck by the
continuity of it all.  I think it is what we are all about.  But can you
imagine?  Two new Rabbis, and a new Jewish family, all in one weekend!


I saw many camp alumni in Cincinnati today, some who feel close and some not. 
But I also talked with one of our campers.  When he saw me his whole face
brightened.  He looked at me, but he saw camp.  He came to me to wish me a
Shabbat Shalom and to boast that this year he would be in 2nd year Gezah.  The
twinkle in his 12 year old eyes turned me from these deep feelings of
nostalgia, from looking back, to an excited anticipation of what lies ahead,
summer 1990.  I tingle at the thought of new campers, staff, hopes and dreams,
new relationships.


As we make our descent into L.A. another warm thought crosses my mind.  At the
beautiful and historic Plum Street Temple, just before the ordination service
began, I had the chance to see some of my old professors and Rabbis.  Dr. Jacob
Marcus, the patriarch of H.U.C. (he's 93 years old) my American Jewish History
professor, wished me a Shabbat Shalom but then asked jokingly "Who is watching
the camp?"  I think he was happy to see me and wanted me to know that he
remembered who I was. The question made me laugh, but now that I think of it
the answer to the question is what's important.  I should have given him a
confident smile and told him not to worry.  Who's watching the camp?  "We are,
Dr. Marcus.  We are."

Ron

Sunday, April 1, 1990

Camp Heroes

                                                                                            April, 1990


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


I hope this letter finds you all having a wonderful Pesach.  As I sat at home
last night, Pesaching with my family, I was struck by the heroism of our
ancestors.  Can you imagine leaving home, setting out on an unknown journey--
into the desert no less, with an angry army at your heels.  It seems to me that
each step taken was an heroic act.


Today, sitting here at camp, I've been thinking about my own personal camp
heroes.  Not the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pete Seeger, Walter Payton, larger-
than-life type heroes; rather, some of the people who, through personal
contact, have had a dramatic impact on my life.  People who I continue to think
about many years after that contact.  Let me tell you about three of my CAMP
heroes.


I'm sure that Dick Aft never gave my name a second thought after the summer of
1956.  I was just one of the many ten year olds under his care at Camp Chi in
Wisconsin that summer.  I've never forgotten him.  He was my first counselor. 
Dick at 19 was a mountain of a young man.  A varsity football player and
wrestler at Knox College, he was physically big.  But to a ten year old boy,
away from home at his first Jewish camp, Dick Aft looked like a Jewish Mack
truck.  It is not because of his size (probably bigger in my mind than in
reality anyway) that I remember him 35 years later, but because he was such a
gentle person.  He was able to teach the boys in my cabin to live together, to
share, to like/love each other, and to have fun.   He was a gentle giant who,
it seems to me, was dedicated to my group.  Dick Aft eased our homesick pains
and made each of us feel important.  He even let us flip him on his back and
pin him, just so we could impress the other cabins. He was a good person, a
caring person.  Dick was the best person to have as your first camp counselor.


I met Irv Kaplan my first summer on staff at Union Institute (now Olin-Sang-
Ruby) in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  I was a Machonick, he was the Camp Director. 
Irv had an amazing charisma that energised and motivated the entire camp.  I
never met anyone like him.  He was an actor, a story teller, a folk singer, a
teacher, and a lover of Judaism.  I remember walking into his office the
January before that summer of 1964, an eighteen year old lost soul, and
emerging with a Machon contract in my hand and a sense of purpose in mind. 
That summer, when Irv Kaplan spoke to the camp staff his deep voice conveyed a
strong sense of committment to the survival of the Jewish People and a feeling
of the sacredness of our work at camp.  His words went right into my heart.  I
still feel a chill at the thought of it.  He was a fair but tough boss whose
standards were very high, and for whose approval we worked very hard.  I worked
for Irv until 1970 when he made Aliyah.  The closer I got to him, the more I
was able to realize that underneath all of his drama and dedication lay a rich
sense of humor.  A twinkle in the eye at even the most serious of times.  Irv
was the best person to have as your first Camp Director.


In those early years at Union Institute, I came to know a rabbi quite well.  He
was not my home congregational rabbi, he was my camp rabbi.  As a counselor, I
made it a point to have Rabbi Ernst Lorge visit my cabin several times a
session.  Those evenings were always a highlight for my boys.  Rabbi Lorge came
to the States from Germany before World War II to attend the Hebrew Union
College and become a Reform Rabbi.  Later, when the war broke out, he joined
the army as a chaplain and returned to Europe.  He told marvelous stories of
his experiences with Jewish soldiers at the front lines.  They were a mixture
of some of the horrors of war with the humanity of the Jewish heart.  Every
Pesach I remember a story he used to tell about conducting a Seder in the
trenches (that memory is probably what prompted me to write this letter).  When
Rabbi Lorge spoke in my cabin, you could hear yourself blink, and no one fell
asleep before he left.


Later on, during my Unit Head years, Rabbi Lorge served as faculty dean of at
least one session each summer.  As dean he was in charge of my unit's Judaic
educational program.  As Unit Head, I was responsible for everything else. 
Inevitably we clashed and argued about who was to teach what to whom.  I was so
enthusiastic about camp that I wanted to do it all including teach Jewish
topics about which I knew very little.  Rabbi Lorge rightfully insisted that
the Rabbis do a majority of the teaching.  We argued long and hard; spontaneity
and creativity vs. depth of Jewish knowledge.  But even when the argument
became heated, I never ceased to feel that Rabbi Lorge loved me for challenging
him, for my energy, for my enthusiasm.  He was tough and solid in his beliefs. 
I never won an argument from him.  Rabbi Lorge was one of the founding rabbis
of that first U.A.H.C. camp.  He was my teacher, and I think of him often. 
Ernst Lorge, the best person to have as your first camp rabbi.


I wonder who tomorrow's heroes will be.

Ron

Thursday, February 1, 1990

Fishing

                                                                                                 Feb. 1990


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


I've been sending you these letters for a few months now, and I've even
received some responses.  They have been very positive, I'm happy to say.  I am
always happy to hear from you and if I stimulate some thought--all the better. 
These letters are just my own personal thoughts, with no hidden meanings or
agendas.


I'd like to tell you about something very important to me; fishing.  You
probably were not aware of the my interest in this sport, nor did you know that
I have been on several fishing expiditions in the past few years.  OK. I admit
it. I do not particularly like to fish.  But my son Michael does.  Somehow he
has become fascinated with fishing and wholly committed to the quest of
bringing in the "big one."  So for the past three years, for a week in the
spring before we gear up for camp, and for a week in August right after camp
closes, off we go with tent, rod and reel, all kinds of strange looking things
called crankbaits, spoons, etc., and a canoe, to threaten the gilled
populations of our local lakes.  I might add at this point, we are the worst
fishermen ever to buy a nightcrawler.  We have never brought in the big one. 
Not even the middle sized one.  "Why," you might ask, "would I invest so much
time and energy to something in which I am not particularly interested, and do
so poorly?"  The answer is simple.  Although I do not love to fish, I love to
go fishing with my son.  His enthusiasm for fishing gives us the opportunity to
spend two weeks a year alone together.  For that, I'm happy to call myself an
angler.


Michael is the expert.  He knows everything there is to know about fishing from
books, magazines, and even the fishing shows on TV (how is it that they are
able to catch twenty or so monsters in a half-hour show, while we haven't
landed one in three years?).  The biggest thing we have ever caught was me,
when Jeremy (he begrudgingly joins us on occasion) hooked my finger.  There we
were, out in the middle of a lake, the three of us in a canoe, and me with a
barbed fish hook embedded in my finger.  I was thinking that we must be doing
something wrong, as I ripped out that hook with a pliers.  Jeremy and Michael
admired their Dad's fortitude...(I almost puked).


Well, it's almost April and off we go again.  You know?  I can't wait. 
Michael's eyes are bright with anticipation.  He's planning the "safari" every
evening, with thoughts of different types of lures, a new reel, visions of
taxidermists dancing in his head.  I'm excited too.  We'll bring along our
Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich tapes (perhaps I can sneak some Bruebeck in there
as well).  We will talk about jazz, and high school, and the Bears, and----what
the hell, we will just have all that time to talk about nothing.  It doesn't
get any better than that. 
I'd like to see Michael catch that big one, just to see the look on his face.  But if it doesn't happen, I really don't mind.

Now let me tell you how I felt last night watching Jeremy play tenor sax with
the North Central H.S. Jazz Band....well, maybe next time.


Ron

Saturday, January 20, 1990

Israel = Family


                                                                                                              

                               
                                                                                         January, 1990


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:

As you may know I recently returned from the annual meeting of the Union of
American Hebrew Congregations' Youth Division.  It is always exciting to get
together with the forty or so people who are responsible for all of our
U.A.H.C. Camp Institutes, N.F.T.Y., the College Education Department, and The
International Education Department.  These are forty dedicated, creative, and
energetic people who love what they do, and are devoted to our kids and the
Reform Movement.  Each year these meetings recharge my batteries and help me
feel more a part of a national movement staff.


One of the programs in which we participated consisted of a panel of Israelis
and American Israelis discussing and answering questions about the current
state of affairs in Israel.  It was a great debate presenting many sides to the
Palestinian conflict.  But a most disturbing realization came to light.  No
position offered an acceptable solution.  There seem to be no clear answers. 
The Israelis are completely divided on the issues, and many have lost faith in
their own government.  As American Jews, hearing how divided Israelis are on
the issues only adds to the uncertainties already implanted in our minds by the
media coverage and world criticism of Israel.  We cringe when we hear Israel
likened to South Africa, feel an erosion of pride when we think of Israel as
conquerors rather than victorious underdogs.  These are indeed very difficult
times.


For me, the most signicant moment during this program occured when one of our
N.F.T.Y. staff members asked a non-political question.  She asked, "Given the
uncertainties and doubts we all have about Israel, how do we teach Israel to
our kids?"  I think the implied question is, are we being hypocrites if we
teach our kids to love Israel in light of our own personal doubts?  For me the
answer is a resounding NO. Without denying the state of turmoil that now exists
in Israel, without burying our heads in the sand and closing our eyes to the
violence and hatred exhibited by Palestinians and Israelis alike, we must stand
by our committment to Israel.  We must remember the feelings of friendship we
have with those Israelis we have come to know and love here at camp over the
years.  Iti, Sharon, Sigal, Yigal, Roni, Ari, aren't just Israeli names, they
are people who have had a profound influence on various G.U.C.I. staffs; people
we have worked with and formed relationships with.  They represent our Israeli
family.  And as in our own immediate families, Israel, for better or for worse,
is a part of us.


The problems Israel faces today do not diminish its magnificent history, both
ancient and modern.  The Palestinian crisis does nothing to lessen the
centuries-old longing our people have felt for a homeland, nor does it diminish
the realization of that dream in Eretz Yisrael.  When we teach Israel we must
explore her modern-day traumas, but in the context of all that Israel has been
and remains to be in the unfolding story of the Jewish People.


I vividly remember running from police teargas bombs in an anti-war
demonstration in 1968 in Madison, Wisconsin.  The counter protesters chanted at
us, "America, love it or leave it!"  We believed with all our hearts, "America,
love it and change it!"  Although we may not like what we see and hear about
Israel, the bottom line is we cannot stop loving it.  Israel is family.

That's the way I see it.

Ron