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Wednesday, May 1, 1991

Brotherhood Work Weekend

                                                                                                           May, 1991


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


I had the opportunity, last week, to participate in a very special Havdalah
service.  Havdalah, along with the closing (Ne'elah) service on Yom Kippur have
always been my favorite services.  Last Shabbat was special.  Last Shabbat was
the brotherhood work weekend here at camp.  I'm sure that most of you have
never heard of this event.  Twelve years ago brotherhood members from our
Reform congregation in Toledo, Ohio asked me how they could help the camp.  It
seemed that they didn't have the budget to contribute financially to G.U.C.I.,
but were willing to contribute in other ways.  We came up with the idea of a
brotherhood work weekend.  It's really quite simple; a dozen or so members of
the Todedo brotherhood (now joined by some Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Terre
Haute brotherhood members) come to camp on a Thursday night one weekend each
Spring, and work their asses off doing anything I ask them to do until Sunday
afternoon.  I'm talking electrical work, carpentry, landscaping, painting,
cutting wood, etc. etc.  Some of the men are quite skilled.  Others, like me,
carry the wood, shovel the gravel, and push the paint brushes.  If you have
been to camp in the last decade, you've seen their work: a new roof on the Beit
Am, new steps carved into the hill on the path to the boys' area, our soccer
goals, The lighting system in the Oolam, shelves and cubbies in each of the
cabins, benches in the Chadar Ochel, roof on the athletic shed, and many other
projects including this year's, a magnificent new deck/porch on our newly
remodled Avodah bulding. 


One of the special moments during each of the work weekends has been our unique
Havdalah service.  As we all know, Havdalah demarks the end of the day of rest
and the beginning of the work week.  But, on these weekends we work harder than
we do during our usual work week.  Havdalah might seem strange under these
circumstances.  The reality is, however, that the Havdalah service is very 
appropriate, because the type of work we are doing is unique, almost sacred. 
The brotherhood members understand that their labors are a Mitzvah; that they
are doing their part to make camp better for all of our kids.  The brotherhood
work weekend Havdalah is a religious thank you for the opportunity to be
together and to perform such an important Mitzvah.  Their spirit matches that
of our summer staff, and as such its uplifting to work with these men.


In just a few weeks our Unit Heads, specialists, counselors, Machonickim, and
Avodahnickim will gather to once again create our special kind of summer camp. 
In much the same way as that of the brotherhood members, our work will be
unique.  We know it will not be easy.  But each Shabbat we will remark at how
quickly our time together at camp is passing, and at Havdalah most of us will
give thanks for the opportunity given us to be together and do this good work.

Ron

Monday, April 1, 1991

The Poet

                                                                                                                          March 1991



Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


It has been a long time since I've written, I'm sorry.  This winter's been
rather rough and depressing, filled with the dread of war, a couple of close
friends about to divorce, a classmate's serious illness, you get the picture. 
But the promise of spring is almost in the air and I am encouraged by the
thought that in a short time the little yippers will be back, noisy, messy,
full of life and hope, and laughter (and maybe even a few tears).


Yesterday the Indianapolis community lost a unique member.  He was a black poet
named Etheridge Knight, 61 years old who died of cancer.  I normally would not
burden you with such sad news, but Mr. Knight was an acquaintance of mine, an
unusual and uplifting sort of fellow, whose life and words bring me a feeling
of joy even at this time of loss. 


I met Etheridge last year in a downtown bar called the Chatterbox.  It's a
place I used to frequent to hear local jazz musicians jam late into the night. 
It was anything but high class (kind of a wide hallway with tables and a
postage stamp sized bandstand), but the music was hot and the beer was cold.  I
often went to listen to Jimmy Coe, a favorite tenor sax player who, at 62 years
of age, could blow with the kids, had played with the greats including Charlie
Parker, and represented (to me) the totality of the history of black jazz.  But
he should be the subject of a letter all his own. 


 One night very late, I'm listening to the quartet, Jimmy Coe introduces Etheridge Knight who takes the mike to read poetry against the background of a quite blues number.  I kind of
laughed to myself, thinking we were flashing back to Greenwich Village in the
late 50's when beatniks held poetry readings to jazz accompaniment (I admit to
spending time on the north side of Chicago, in my youth, in such coffee houses
listening to existentialists, and wishing I was old enough to grow a goatee). 
At first, as you can tell, I didn't take this scene very seriously. 

But when Etheridge began to speak, his words commanded an immediate respect. 
It was apparent that the audience felt it was hearing something important. 
Knight recited poems that he had written while in prison.  He'd spent seven
years in a federal penitentiary (I never had the nerve to ask him about his
crime), and spoke of the freedom of the soul and the shackles of society.  From
the midst of despair, drug addiction, incarceration, he wrote of life and love,
music and creativity.  He blew me away.


Later, I was lucky enough to be able to sit and talk with Etheridge.  We had a
drink.  He got a kick out of the fact that I was a Rabbi wearing gym shoes and
an old army jacket.  As parents always do, we started talking about our kids. 
Then a bit of magic happened.  The poet leaned over and, in a lowered voice,
told me that he had something special to share with me, a poem that he had
written to his daughter, while he was still in prison.  He paused, and then
recited to me personally a heartbreaking poem of the anguish he felt as a
father, deprived of seeing his child grow up.  He blew me away again.


I saw Etheridge Knight many times after that night, always at the Chatterbox. 
As he walked by my table he would usually nod and say "Rabbi..." To which I
would reply, "Poet..."  We'd smile at our "titles."  Now that he is gone, I
can't help but think of his style, his spirit, undaunted, wounded, smiling
through the tears.  It makes me think of spring and the coming onslaught of the
little yippers and how happy I am that this place will once again be filled
with them.


Ron