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
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.