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Friday, December 1, 1995

Thanks to Staff

        
                                                                                                                     December 1995


Dear GUCI Staff (As Count Basie said, “One more time…”):


In my travels around our regions and wherever I encounter one or more of the 500 alumni now receiving these staff letters, I am always impressed with the tremendously warm feelings that we have for our camp and the friends you’ve made during your summers here.  Personally, I have always felt that even one summer here as a staff member cements a connection that most other experiences never approach.  I feel a very special relationship with people who have shared that staff struggle and programmatic and personal victory we realize during the course of each summer at Goldman Union Camp.

The struggles and ultimate growth in character and knowledge and commitment continue for our staff members, summer after summer.  We reap the rewards today, for the gifts former counselors and unit heads gave so abundantly to their campers in the past.  How so?  As plans take shape for our Leadership (formerly Top Deck) Staff for 1996, it is heartwarming to report that our Shoresh, Gezah, Anaf, Camp K’ton and Avodah Unit Heads, along with our Program Director, all began their involvement here as either Shoresh or Gezah campers.  Perhaps they were in your cabin, or Chug, or swim class somewhere along the way.  Now these former campers take over the helm.  They will be making it all happen for the next generation of campers/staff/leadership staff.

We need your financial support to maintain this Jewish continuity here at our camp.  This winter we begin a project to rebuild the rooms and apartment over the Beit Am.  The new living quarters will house Unit Heads and Specialists.  The old rooms and apartment are not usable now, and we need the space desperately.  This $25,000 project would just about be covered if each of sent in a $50.00 check.  Your contribution, more or less than the $50.00 I mentioned, will be greatly appreciated.  If the GUCI Staff Letters mean anything at all to you, please help us with this most important project.

Thanks,

Ron

Final Havdalah

                                                                                              December, 1995


Dear GUCI Staff:


There is a little known tradition, which has grown here at camp.  It’s a long beautiful tradition, which never ceases to move me and stay on my mind long after the joys, and trials of the summer subside.  For the past several summers, the staff that has remained in camp after Kallah Bet, to work OVFTY Institute (now called NFTY Institute) has come together on that final Saturday night for a festive meal and last Havdalah service.  It’s the Havdalah that clings to my emotional memory.

The week of NFTY Institute is a sort of detox for the staff who have been in the camp the proceeding nine or ten weeks.  To some degree we experience withdrawal from the intensity of regular camp.  Although we miss the action and involvement of Kallah, the need fulfillment we provide our younger campers (and the ego gratification they often give us), it is good to slowly come out of the fog of fatigue that has engulfed us.  During “Tute” we are still involved in program, we still attend T’fillot, do Shmira, live at camp, work in the Chadar Ochel, etc.  But the pace is slower, Aruchat Boker later, we sleep more, we recover.

As the week nears its end, it is inevitable that the full-summer staff begins to turn its thoughts to the fall and school or work; the profane.  The Havdalah service that week separates more than just that Shabbat from the coming week, it marks the end of camp and the beginning of life after camp.  It seems to have a lot more significance than most Havdalah services.  This summer the twenty or so of us sat on the benches and floor of the Merkaz Tochnit, the porch of the Chadar Ochel for the service.  It was around midnight.  We lit just the Havdalah candle, sat in a circle, tasted the wine, smelled the spices, admired the flame.  It was a quiet and somewhat poignant moment.  The tradition is to spend some moments during the service talking about the summer.  Anyone is free to speak, and most are moved to do so.  It has become a lovely interlude in which we collectively express our pride for the accomplishments of the summer, our strong sense of community and friendship, our hopes for health and happiness in our out-of-camp lives which are about to commence.  This particular Havdalah has become for me, in a very positive sense, an emotional highlight of the summer.  It is a good way to close.

To some degree the staff that works that last week feels as though they are the “survivors” of the summer.  Many of them began as part of the opening crew, arriving at camp before even the Leadership staff.  They cleaned; moved bunk beds, painted, and in general, dug the camp out of a long winter of inactivity.  Then these same kids became counselors, unit heads, and specialists for the long haul of camp.  Now they find themselves sitting on the floor of the Merkaz, looking at the reflection of the Havdalah candle on the faces of their colleagues, closing a chapter in GUCI’s history.  It is at once a triumphant and somewhat sad moment. 

It seems to me that during that final Havdalah of the summer, the wine is a little sweeter, the spices more pungent, and the flame a little brighter than usual.  But when the flame is extinguished, the darkness seems unusually deep as well.

Ron

Rebuilding the Beit Am

                                                                                                                 December 1995

Dear GUCI Staff (As Count Basie said, “One more time…”)

In my travels around our regions and wherever I encounter one or more of the 500 alumni now receiving these staff letters, I am always impressed with the tremendously warm feelings that we have for our camp and the friends you’ve made during your summers here.  Personally, I have always felt that even one summer here as a staff member cements a connection that most other experiences never approach.  I feel a very special relationship with people who have shared that staff struggle and programmatic and personal victory we realize during the course of each summer at Goldman Union Camp.

The struggles and ultimate growth in character and knowledge and commitment continue for our staff members, summer after summer.  We reap the rewards today, for the gifts former counselors and unit heads gave so abundantly to their campers in the past.  How so?  As plans take shape for our Leadership (formerly Top Deck) Staff for 1996, it is heartwarming to report that our Shoresh, Gezah, Anaf, Camp K’ton and Avodah Unit Heads, along with our Program Director, all began their involvement here as either Shoresh or Gezah campers.  Perhaps they were in your cabin, or Chug, or swim class somewhere along the way.  Now these former campers take over the helm.  They will be making it all happen for the next generation of campers/staff/leadership staff.

We need your financial support to maintain this Jewish continuity here at our camp.  This winter we begin a project to rebuild the rooms and apartment over the Beit Am.  The new living quarters will house Unit Heads and Specialists.  The old rooms and apartment are not usable now, and we need the space desperately.  This $25,000 project would just about be covered if each of us sent in a $50.00 check.  Your contribution, more or less than the $50.00 I mentioned, will be greatly appreciated.  If the GUCI Staff Letters mean anything at all to you, please help us with this most important project.

Thanks,

Ron

Wednesday, November 1, 1995

This Land...

                                                                                                      November, 1995

Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


The most well known American folksong ever written is undoubtedly Woodie
Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."  I've been thinking about the song.  Since
camp ended last August, I have seen much of this land and marveled at its
beauty and diversity.  Soon after camp ended, Juca and I traveled on the Blue
Ridge Parkway into North Carolina to spend the Labor Day weekend with Rabbi
Jim(bo) Bennett and his family and congregation.  Three days in a beautiful
mountain top retreat.  The program itself was fun; I told stories, played the
banjo, and we got to spend time with the Bennett family to boot.  But the
setting was mind boggling.  We watched the sun set each evening over the Blue
Ridge mountains.  We drove down winding mountain roads, thick with evergreen
trees.  I could not open my eyes wide enough to take it all in.  After a long,
hot, mid-western summer, the cool and clear mountain breezes refreshed the
spirit.


A week after our mountain romp, we found ourselves back in the Mecca of the mid-
west, Chicago.  It is always thrilling for me to return to the city of my
birth.  This trip was a special treat as we participated in a dinner honoring
Jerry Kaye for completing 25 years as the Director of our camp in Wisconsin,
The Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute.  I was at that camp for 14 years before I
migrated south to Zionsville.  As Jerry's first Assistant Director in 1970 when
he came to the camp, I was asked to speak at the dinner.  Honoring Jerry was an
easy thing to do.  Many of the 150 people in attendance had been my campers or
staff members in one of my units in the old days of Union Camping.  The
nostalgia flowed, and being back in the heart of my old hometown made it even
better.  Did I mention that the dinner was held at Commisky Park, home of the
White Sox, the dream team of my childhood (oh! how I remember that 1959
season).  I returned to Chi-town last weekend and had the good fortune to take
a boat ride out on Lake Michigan.  It was a cold and blustery day, but what a
piece of work that city is, and what a sight from a mile out on the lake.  We
stood out on the top deck of that boat, hunched over, leaning into the wind.  I
pointed out a beautiful old brown and tan building, dwarfed by the tallest
skyscrapers.  It was the hotel in which my parents were married. 


The day after the Jerry Kaye dinner, I headed down to Kentucky for four days of
sailing and sun on Kentucky lake.  We sailed over 30 miles down that lake and
anchored each night in a different deserted cove on the shoreline of the state
park called The Land Between the Lakes.  The sights we saw were many; fish
jumping, sun setting on the water, moon rising, calm evenings, windy and wavy
mornings.  We sailed in strong winds and calmer breezes, always marvelling at
the beauty around us.


In-between each of these trips I returned to Zionsville to witness the
progressing October techni-color performance put on by our trees here at
camp.  Quite a show!  From our beautiful camp to the tops of those magnificent
blue mountains of North Carolina, to the currents and coves of Kentucky, with a
few turns around the Loop in between, I'd say I had a quick lesson in
appreciating the words, "This Land Was Made For You And Me." 


Ron

Friday, September 1, 1995

Premature Sermon

      
                                                                                                                 September 1995


Dear GUCI Staff:


Those of you who know me may recall that I do not often prepare well in advance of an event.  It seems that I work better under pressure.  I’ll usually be putting the finishing touches on high holiday sermons, for example, just a day or so before the delivery date.  Not so this year.
Two weeks ago I was reading an article and was struck by the amazing announcement that the New Year was 5776.  My mind started to play with that number.  Throughout history, Jews have played numbers games; we call it “Gematria.”  Gematria is the manipulation of numbers and letter in order to understand their hidden meanings.  A Jewish mystical game.  Being a mystic myself (right!), the number 5776 caught my attention.

Kallah Bet’s theme this summer was Jerusalem 3000, celebrating 3000 years since the founding of the city by King David.  King David reigned around the year 1000 BCE.  My mystical mind did a somersault and landed on the idea that if you add the 3000 years of Jerusalem’s history to the year of King David’s reign, 1000, and subtract that (4000) from the new year, 5776, you arrive at the number 1776.  So, by adding and subtracting Jewish numbers we see a connection between two significant years.  5776 and 1776.  Of course, 1776 is a year dear to the hearts of all Americans (and one the British remember as well).  It brings to mind the struggle for independence and value of freedom.  What does this mean to us Jews?

It was easy for my magical-mystery-tour mind to conclude that during the year 5776 we Jews need to think about and appreciate the religious freedom we enjoy.  We celebrate Jerusalem 3000 this year, but let us do so with a sense of pride and thanksgiving that Jerusalem is a free city in our Jewish homeland.  How many times during its history did the Jews in Jerusalem long for independence, suffering under the harsh rule of some foreign power?  But today, our children study in its universities, our rabbis and cantors take their first real Jewish steps up the stairs of the Hebrew Union College there, in the heart of our ancient city.  Jerusalemites and all of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael breathe the clean air of freedom.  5776/1776 reminds us to be thankful for that freedom.

And we certainly can’t avoid relating the year 5776 and its declension into 1776 with our own sense of religious freedom and independence.  The number of the year demands that we pause to give thanks for the opportunities we have to pause and give thanks.  Our country stands on the ideals of religious freedom and we Jews bask in that light.  How lucky we are to be able to openly and proudly gather to usher in this new year, with songs and prayers (and even sermons), in Hebrew and in English, with friends and family.

One other 5776-freedom mystically appeared to me.  I think we should appreciate the freedom of creativity our Reform Jewish heritage affords us; the freedom of choice, the freedom to mesh our 90’s life-styles with our religious value system and choice of Jewish practice.  Reform Judaism has provided us with a modern spin on our ancient religion.  As modern thinkers, without this freedom of Reform Judaism to experiment, to learn, to adapt, to choose that which has relevance and meaning, and to reject that which does not, how many of us would be gathering to worship on this eve of the year of our independence, 5776?

But hold on.  Could it be?  Soon after I read that article I realized that it is not the year 5776.  That was a misprint.  The real year, the correct number is 5756.  My Gematria was off the mark, twenty years premature.  Well, the ideas stand, but I’ll have to hold on to them until the year 2015 and pray in the meantime that Israel, American and Reform Judaism continue to bask in freedom’s warmth.  Hey!  Who says I don’t prepare in advance?

Shannah Tovah from camp to home to home.

Ron

Saturday, April 15, 1995

Time is a Puzzle

Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:

Time is weighing heavily on my mind these days.  We used to sing here, "Ha Yamim Cholfim, Shannah Overet..." In English it's, "Days pass and years go by, ever and ever."  Ain't that the truth!  It's not bad enough that Ha Yamim Cholfim (days pass), but rather, tempus fugit (time flies).  It seems to fly at an ever accelerating rate.  Hey, it's almost time for Seder; what happened to all the time since last year's recounting of our people's escape from bondage?  Well, Ha Zman Chalaf (that's past tense, man), the time has raced by.

But perhaps that's because so much has happened in the meantime.  Add these up in your mind's-eye view of time:  Mike Moskowitz engaged and about to be ordained; Steve Derringer engaged; Josh Bennett, now a rabbi in Detroit, engaged to Meg Waterman; Barry Snyder and Debra Lee parents of a beautiful new daughter, Jenna Lee; Sandford and Nancy Kopnick working on their second future program director (should make the scene in July); Dr. Lee Freedman and his wife Hillary expecting the arrival of a future songleader in August; Melinda Mersack and Frank (don't call him Hank) DeWoskin about to embark on rabbinic school careers; Adam Morris, rabbi-ing in Nashville, now a married man; Susan Malman visited the Chupah last spring; Barry Litwack, Gary Vigran, and Joe and Lisa Eiduson have joined the baby powder brigade; and others, lost in the recesses of my time-warped memory.  I "Kvell" at the thought of all of these monumental events.  But just think of the constant emotional high of receiving good news after good news, coupled with my own non-leaving of camp and a full schedule of travel around the region for camp, NFTY, and UAHC events.  Now, perhaps you can understand my dilemma; a year has flown the coop.

Time puzzles me in other ways as well. Two come to mind.  Last weekend almost the entire world went on Daylight Saving Time, but not Indiana.  Don't ask me why.  Indy is in the wrong time zone in the first place.  We should be on Central time and then go on Central Daylight in the summer. Instead we remain in Eastern Standard time all year.  This confuses everyone.  Are we on the same time as Chicago?  Yes, in the summer.  Or, are we on New York time?  Yes, in the winter.  Regardless of the hour, most people feel it's still 1955 here in Indiana anyway.  We really should try to catch up (Spring ahead, Fall back) with the rest of the world.  And lastly.  It troubles me greatly that my son, Jeremy, is studying in Israel where it is seven (now eight) hours later than it is here in Indy.  It's not just that I miss him and feel that he is far away.  But, each time I think of what he might be doing, I get the terrible feeling that he's already done it and is on to other things.  You know, it's already tomorrow over there.  Ha Zman Chalaf!  

In all fairness, I have to tell you that the last line of the song I quoted up above is, "Aval Ha Manginah, Tamid Nisheret," which helps us cope with the rapid passage of time because it tells us that although days pass and years go by, "The melody always remains."  The life cycle events of our alumni have left a beautiful melody, and Spring is almost here, and camp is right around the corner.  So, in the final analysis, the time is right.  If I haven't missed it, and it's not already Shavu'ot in Israel, let me wish you all a Chag Sameach, Happy Passover.

Ron   

P.S. It may be the '50's in Indy, but it's the '90's at camp.  Post comments below.  I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, March 1, 1995

Pete Seeger Over the Years


A Summer Without Avodah

                                                                                                                        March 1995


Dear GUCI Staff and Faculty:


I wish you all the best for the wonderful 1995.  I know we are going to have an amazing summer together.  This letter is a quasi-report on our progress here at camp, and is also a what-to-expect letter.

Staff:  The entire staff is complete for the summer.  I expect that we will have two Israeli scouts on our counseloring staff, and an Israeli Arts and Crafts Specialist.  This summer we will have the largest (in number not in girth) and highest paid staff in camp’s history.  I can’t wait for us to be together to begin our work.

Faculty:  Faculty for Kallah Aleph and Bet is complete.  We do need Faculty and a nurse for our NFTY/Ohio Valley Institute (we used to call that Ovfty-tute in the good old days) from August 6 to the 13th.

Campers:  Over 440 campers have been enrolled for next summer.  That sounds like a lot, but it is slightly behind where we were last year at this time.  Kallah Bet is all but completely full; however, spaces are available for all age groups in Kallah Aleph.  Please continue to talk up camp and encourage families to contact me and discuss attendance.  Campership assistance is available for campers enrolling in Kallah Aleph.  Please keep our name in front of your congregants and friends.  Help us fill the remaining sixty camper spaces.  Thank you.

Camp Life-Style: I am sure that most of you have heard that there will not be an Avodah unit this summer in camp.  This is the result of a change in the national U.A.H.C. Youth Division program.  We can all expect to be affected by this.  I have already met with last summer’s Avodahnikim and discussed changes in our Machon program necessitated by this circumstance.  Each Machonik will be spending one session in a cabin and one session living in the Avodah building, working as a staff in Camp K’ton and in other areas around camp.  We, the entire staff and faculty will share in the responsibilities of running and cleaning camp.  Our camp will operate much like a kibbutz this summer.  We will all take turns in the kitchen, doing maintenance, and doing other tasks (in addition to our regular camp jobs) to help maintain a clean, safe, and healthy camp.  I like the sound of this approach to camping.  We carry to the next plateau the expression; “Many hands make work light.”  This will be our finest hour of cooperation and communal living.

Leadership staff, Machonikim, Specialists, and Miscellaneous Staff will all be living in the Avodah building this summer.  Faculty will be responsible for cleaning their own rooms, helping in the infirmary, driving campers to doctors, maintaining the Sifria, etc.  We will indeed be building our community together.  I look forward to doing the pots together with you all.  I am thankful for the adventure we are about to experience together.

Ron

Wednesday, February 1, 1995

Susan Dill's Favorite

                                                                                                      February, 1995

Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:

Last Friday night I tied three ties.  That may not seem startling to you,
but for a person who is accustomed to wearing jeans, gym shoes, and golf
shirts, tying even one tie can be an event. 


The first tie that I tied on Friday was, of course, around my own neck.  In
reality, it isn't unusual for me to put on a tie on Friday night, as I am
usually attending services at one of our synagogues in the region.  Last Friday
I traveled to Louisville for a congregational dinner, camp service, and camp
presentation during the Oneg.  After twenty years of traveling to promote camp
in our synagogues, I am getting quite good at tying the required neck knot.  It
often strikes me as kind of ironic, the formality of dress necessary for the
settings in which I speak about the creativity and informality of camp.  The
necktie seems to exemplify the irony to me.  But I'm not complaining.  I am
actually happy that I remembered to retrieve my favorite tie from my son
Michael before he went off to college, so that I can wear it on occasion. 
During the football season I proudly wear my blue and orange Bears tie.  But I
digress.


I arrived at The Temple in Louisville a short time before the dinner began. 
One of our camp board members (she had arranged the entire camp night at the
temple) was scurrying about making final preparations, and in her haste had not
had the time to help her four-year-old son put on his tie.  She asked me to do
the honors.  At the time the boy was busy racing across the floor and then
dropping to his knees to see how far he could slide.  He was quite good at this
maneuver.  But he did willingly come over to me for the harnessing procedure. 
It is not easy to tie someone else's tie.  I had the boy turn around so that
his back was to me and completed the procedure by leaning over his shoulder and
reaching around him.  He was small, so it wasn't too hard.  When he looked down
and saw the tie he smiled a very grown-up type smile and went on his way.  It
took about 45 seconds for him to return to his boyhood self, running, sliding ,
and cavorting.  But I was struck by the memory of tying my sons' ties as they
were growing up.  It was a definite nostalgic flashback.  I liked the feel of
it.


I spoke with many of the people as they arrived for the dinner.  An older
couple approached me to talk.  The man, it turned out, had been a scoutmaster
for many years and wanted to compare camp notes.  He and his wife told me of
their two sons and how involved they had all been in scouting, etc.  Their
youngest is two years older than me.  Then, just as I was about to turn away to
speak to someone else, the woman told me that her husband had had a stroke
recently and had forgotten how to tie his tie.  He was embarrassed to ask for
help, but she thought that one camp director wouldn't mind helping another.  He
and I went to the Men's room.  For the second time that evening I reached over
someone's shoulder and made the appropriate loops and folds to complete the
knot.  The bathroom mirror reflected a grateful but sad expression in his
eyes.  For a moment I was his son.  He was grateful that I had helped him and
sad that he needed my help for such a simple task.  I told him that we were
members of a special club, camp directors, and that our club members always
helped each other out.  I told him that he looked fine and wished him a Shabbat
Shalom.  He blessed me with a warm smile and handshake.


So, Friday night I tied three ties; one for myself, one for my children, and
one for my father.  That's the way I'll remember it.        

Ron