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Monday, February 1, 1993

Tempering Sadness

                                                                                              February, 1993


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


Sometimes, in the midst of saddness, comes a blessing.  Early this morning, I
was distracted from my grumbling at a particularly miserable shower of snow and
sleet and ice, by the loud chirping of a beautiful female cardinal, perched in
our front yard tree.  She just sat in all of that cold and wet and sang her
heart out.  I was startled by her beautiful song.


Last month in Israel, on a rainy and cold afternoon, 45 professional U.A.H.C.
Youth Directors and I sat silently in a meeting room at Jerusalem's Yad V'Shem
Holacaust Memorial mezmorized by the words of a Survivor.  I venture to say
that every one of us had done "Shoah" programs in our camps and regions; and
that we had all brought in Holacaust Survivors to speak to our kids, probably
more than once.  We all knew the stories, had seen the films, understood the
history, etc.  But that afternoon it was different.  The woman who sat before
us spoke the unspeakable in a clear and unavoidable voice.  We were changed by
what we heard, turned inside-out emotionally.  Her voice, her words, her horror
will be with me.  As her 90 minutes came to an end, I wondered how the group
would respond.  Most in the group were younger than me; enthusiastic, creative,
sometimes sarcastic people.  How should such a group respond to this difficult
experience?  Any response seemed inappropriate.  I was touched by the fact
that, without any discussion or message, without any concensesus, we responded
in unison with complete silence.  We rose and silently left the room.  We
walked through the gardens outside individually and in small groups, but all in
silence.  Later, on the bus we returned to ourselves, to our group.  Everything
was the same, but each of us was a little different.


Sometime after returning to the States I received the devestating news that one
of my comnfirmation class students had been killed in an automobile accident. 
She was 14 years old.  I went to her funeral.  The next week I spoke to the
class about the fragility of life and the ideas in the book, "When Bad Things
Happen To Good People." 


So, you see, there have been some black clouds in the past few weeks.  But
every once-in-a-while you hear a bird, out in the sleet, singing sweetly, and
it makes you smile.  Two weeks ago, I was invited down to Bloomington, Indiana
to speak at Erev Shabbat services at the Reform synagogue.  We have many staff
and former staff members studying at Indiana University (including one very
special red head who shares my name, my finances, and my love).  When Yael
Splansky and David Burkman found out that I was coming down,they arranged a
little staff get-together at Yael's place after Temple.  I was happy to see
that about 25 of our kids showed up for services.  Their spirit and enthusiasm
had an immediate affect on the small congregation.  During the slide show after
services there were howls of laughter and constant chatter as these counselors
saw themselves and their campers and other friends on the screen.  You could
hardly hear the soundtrack.  I'm sure that presentation didn't bring in one new
camper, but it certainly was fun.

                                 
Afterwords, we all met at Yael's house for coffe and cake.  That's when the
magic happened.  As I look back on the evening it seems to me that were three
distinct segments to this unplanned and informal event.  At first we all sat in
the living room and swapped favorite, funny camp stories.  We heard about being
busted by Shmira, we laughed at unusual-camper tales, camp jokes, Machon
meetings, and on and on.  Next, we shifted gears and moved into the camp Jewish
geography segment of the evening.  People asked me about their former Unit
Heads and other long lost staff.  Everyone wanted to know how Marc Lerner was
doing in his new job, where Shirley Idelson had gone, had I heard from Arie
Cohen, Susie Moskiowitz, Mark Glickman, Sandford Kopnick, etc.  With the
mention of each name came another camp story.  They were funny and warm and
family-like.


Finally, late in the evening, after some staff had left, someone asked me about
my recent trip to Israel.  We began a lenghty discussion of Israel and her
current problems along with other Jewish issues.  We spoke of the problems of
secular vs. orthodoxy in Israel, of tradition vs. modernity in Reform
synagogues, of the status of Reform Judaism in Israel and the success of our
own U.A.H.C. Youth Division there, of the problems faced by female rabbis.  I
couldn't have planned a better Shiur if I had wanted to.  The discussion was
lively, the kids were interested, and I left feeling uplifted.  I walked into
Yael's place at 10:00 p.m. that night and left at 1:30 a.m. wondering where the
three and a half hours had flown to.  Those kids gave me a boost just when I
neded it the most.


This morning, when that cardinal caught my attention, I thought of that evening
with my staff.  Sometimes in the midst of saddness comes a blessing.


Ron

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