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Tuesday, October 1, 1996

The Smells of Autumn

                                                                                                        October, 1996


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


I took a little walk today.  "So?" you might say.  Believe me, this was a
memorable walk.  When I get home from camp in the afternoon, I usually workout
on our treadmill and sometimes even hit the healthrider.  But today I wasn't
feeling so great; kind of tired, knocked out, maybe getting a cold.  So I
decided to skip the routine and just go for a stroll around the neighborhood. 
It's October and the trees are decked out in all of their splendor; the best
show nature has to offer.  And if my old neighborhood has anything, it's big,
old trees that can dazzle the eye during these couple of weeks of color.  So I
took a little walk.


So I'm strolling down the sidewalk trying to take in the orange and reds, the
dull browns, and fading greens.  I'm tired but feel that this is important
since I know that in a week or two all will be bare.  It's as if I need to
capture this technicolor spectacle so I can rewind to it when the cold winds
whip through the empty branches, when I need a reminder of the softness of
nature.  In other words, I'm trying to take in as much as I can with my eyes. 
It was just that kind of moment when my stroll transported me to other times
and other places.  I had been so concentrated on my seeing it all, that I
wasn't ready to be kidnapped by the smells of autumn.


I walked under a canopy of yellow when the first smell hit me.  It was sort of
dusty and pine-driven.  In two or three short steps I was taken away, all the
way to Jerusalem.  I was walking down Jabotinsky, coming home from HUC to our
apartment on Rachov Harlap, sitting on the Mirpeset with Juca, carrying flowers
for Shabbat.  It must have been that pine smell that reached out to me with a
25 year-old arm  and pulled me back all that way.  I followed my nose into a
personal twilight zone, transported to a time when all was beginning.  I hardly
even noticed the smells of Jerusalem back then, and certainly didn't realize at
that time that someday I would be remembering them with a warmth and a smile
and a, "Yeah, I remember that time - it was good."  When I got home I told Juca
that I had smelled it and that it had made me remember.  She understood exactly
and even described that very smell to me.  She knew.  That was my first smell
of the evening.


A little farther along my stroll a second olfactory sensation materialized. 
This second sniff-trip, wasn't nearly as esoteric as the first.  This was more
dry and dusty than piney.  It took me farther in years but not in miles.  I
must be strange, but in an instant I was back in high school struggling on a
dusty football field.  For me, football was more than sounds and movements. 
For four years the taste and smell of it filled me.  I lived for it and used it
to prove myself to myself.  Today my nose reminded me of that young time.  It
was a time of accomplishment and camaraderie, of controlled trials and tests of
the spirit and body.  In a flash I was back there, my father watching from the
sidelines, my mom, worried in the stands.  Playing football was one of the
hardest things I've ever done.  I was proud to have done it pretty well and am
often reminded of the challenge of those days.  Again, I had no idea that the
smell of the season would stay with me all of these years to carry me back
there today.


If I had to put more than just a nostalgic spin on today's trips, I would have
to say that these diverse memories symbolize my own makeup.  To combine in
one's nostalgia both locker rooms and the streets of Jerusalem, blends an
American childhood with an expanding Jewish identity.  I can hear the Twilight
Zone theme song ringing softly in my ears. 


It's funny, I just started out to take a little walk around the neighborhood, but ended up journeying to the far corners of my life.  When I returned home, I unpacked a few smiles I'd picked up along the way.
Ron

Sunday, September 1, 1996

Staff Returning to Camp

                                                                                        
                                                                                          
                                                                                    September, 1996


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


The last staff letter I wrote to you was bursting with the anticipation of a
summer to be.  Now I write to you from the quiet of my office during the lull
of time between the
 summer that was and the Rosh Ha Shannah that is almost. 
Thoughts of this past summer will warm me long into the winter; it was that
good.  The sparks that illuminated our Goldman Union Camp flame this summer
came from many directions.  They joined and burned brightly.  From our youngest
Garin campers (third and fourth graders) overcoming homesickness and leading
the community in beautiful Friday evening Shabbat T'fillot; to a rowdy and
rambunctious Avodah unit painting the camp truck at 2:00 A.M., camp shined a
radiant, youthful, Jewish light.   It was a summer of beginnings and renewals. 
We welcomed many new staff members, including six great new Israeli friends. 
And we welcomed back several staff family members who returned to camp after
being away for years.  Julie Waterman (whose homecoming actually started in
'95), Judy Abramson, and Danny Nichols came home to G.U.C.I. this summer.  They
not only added their talents, enthusiasm, and energy to our collective pool,
they gave much more, a sense of G.U.C.I. history to our staff.  In addition, a
visit from Ian Silver, a ten year Avodah reunion led by Linda Ross, drop-in
visits by Jim Bennett, Danny and Jason Gottlieb, faculty stints by Sandford
Kopnick, Lee Freedman, and Mark Glickman, and Adam Morris' return engagement as
a unit head, this time in Garin, were constant reminders of the rich heritage
our staff inherited here at Goldman Camp.  This summer's staff stood the test
of time and took its own place in our camp's history.  I am proud to be a part
of it.


There were many personal lights shining this summer as well.  I cannot really
express how meaningful it was for me to work with my sons Jeremy and Michael,
together on our Leadership Staff.  I admit to some (perhaps more than a few)
emotional moments watching them work with their kids and fellow staff members. 
I was proud of their individual struggles to achieve all that we hold dear in
our thoughts and feelings of camp.  As the Camp Director, I loved working with
Mark Covitz and this summer's Leadership Staff.  But as a Camp Director who is
also a father, it was a special gift to be given a summer like this with my
boys. 


I learned a lot this summer.  A fellow named Mike Melon, an H.U.C. student, 
came by for a few weeks to learn about camp.  I think he did that, but in turn,
taught me a thing or two about being open and inviting to kids.  I watched him
walk into an established camp society, toward the end of the summer, and
immediately find his place among the staff, Leadership staff, and campers. 
Important lessons.


And then there was Danny Nichols who taught us how to sing.  He brought back to
G.U.C.I. a renewed spirit and emotional energy which, I believe, will be with
us for years to come.  He really linked the best of our camp's past to a
renewed spirituality of today and had a profound affect on us all.  Danny wrote
a kind of rockin' tune to the prayer we use to begin each day, "Baruch Atah
Adonai Elohaynu Melech Ha Olam, Sh'Natan Lanu Hisdamnut Letaken Et Ha Olam. 
Blessed are you Adonai our God, King of the universe, for giving us an
opportunity to make this a better world."  So many bright, shining, and smiling
camper faces told me that we had done just that; this summer, here in
Zionsville.


I hope that 5757 brings you many bright lights and smiling faces.

Ron

Wednesday, May 1, 1996

Standing on the Teachings of Those Who Came Before

                                                                                                                         May, 1996


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


It's May.  The sounds of racing motors at the Speedway are always a sure sign
that camp is about to commence.  As we are about to, once again, embark on the
grand challenge here in Zionsville, my mind  wanders into the misty memories of
camping's past.  To me, it is important to acknowledge how our past helps shape
our present, and, in turn, our future.  Goldman Union Camp Institute is built
upon the foundation of years and years of camp staffs, rabbis, educators, and
directors.  Their ideas and energies paved the way for G.U.C.I. 1996.  Their
passions led us to this point, we take over from here.


It is impossible for me to psych myself up for what lies ahead without thinking
of those who taught me the joys of Judaism and camp as I was growing up.  My
counselors at Union Institute in Wisconsin, the Levys, Merle Singer, my rabbis,
Lorge, Wolf, Mahrer, my unit heads, Jerry Litsky, Gene Levy, my director, Irv
Kaplan, all stand with me as I begin again to build what will be our camp
community this summer.  So do the hundreds, perhaps thousands of campers and
counselors from those fourteen years up north and twenty-two down here. 


 When I begin to open the pool this spring, Jim Bennett and Mike Weinberg will be
minding the filters with me. 


Joe Eiduson, Linda Ross, Marty Zinko, Joel Block, Amy Wolf, Jon Stein, Andrea Lerner, Bruce Lustig, Danny Gottleib, Mark Lerner, and Shirley Idelson will be driving the truck along with all the others who have painted and swept out the Oolam, mopped the cabins, carried the canoes,
helped plan orientation. 


When I first look out at Eagle Creek lake this summer, I'll think of Brad Lander arguing, pushing me to implement a canoeing program. 

As we count tents for Anaf's Kesher program I'll remember Mark
Glickman, out with 100 Anafers at Morgan-Monroe in a thunderstorm. 


When we begin talking about counseloring I'll remember the lessons Simcha Bob and
Sandford Kopnick taught the counselors in their day. 


When our Program Director, Mark Covitz and I began planning orientation, Steve Goodman, Mike Weinberg, Jim Bennett, Lee Freedman, Rachel Hertzman, Sandford Kopnick, Josh
Bennett, Mike Moskowitz, and Jay Moses were sitting on the floor in my office
with us, if only in spirit. 


 I gain a tremendous sense of confidence and strength at the thought of so much creative energy collected over the years, adding to our own strengths, propelling us into another camp season.  I can only imagine how many images of former songleaders will appear (if only in my
mind), strumming their guitars in the shadows of the chadar during Shabbat song
sessions.



We share a fine heritage, the history of our people and the history of those
who taught it to us.  But now comes the time to roll up the sleeves and get to
it.  Now we take our place in the lineage of Jewish communities, of camp
staffs, of the creators of the history of Goldman Union Camp Institute.  This
will be our summer.  We will build it.  I am sure that we will uphold the high
standards set for us by our rabbis, program directors, and counselors of the
past.  In doing so we add our own creativity and passion to the collective
pool.  The spirit of the community we create this summer will build the
future.  It seems only natural to think that years from now some unit head will
reflect back on what we may have given him/her this summer; that someone will
conjure up a misty memory of a warm Jewish feeling received at G.U.C.I during
the summer of 1996.  It is our turn.  This is our challenge.  Thank God for the
opportunity.

Ron

Friday, March 1, 1996

Random Acts of Love

                                                                                                            March, 1996


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


We all know that, "Al Shlosha D'varim Ha Olam Omed.  On three things the world
stands; on Torah, on Avodah, and on Gimilut Hasadim, acts of loving kindness."
We may interpret these three suspenders of the world in different ways.  Torah
could mean our Jewish heritage and history, it could mean the morality and
ethics taught by our Rabbis throughout the ages, it could mean adherence to
tradition as the structure of life.  Avodah could be work or worship, or even
just the willingness of a person to roll up his/her sleeves and join the rest
of humanity in building our world (how many of us felt that for the first time
when we came here to be Avodahnikim).  And then there is Gemilut Hasidim. 
Maybe you've seen the bumper sticker that shouts, "Practice random acts of
loving kindness."  Perhaps in this day and age, this third pod in the world's
tripod is the most important.


It seems to me that we live in a time when it is very easy to insulate
ourselves from others, to go about our business, attend our classes, watch our
videos, protect ourselves.  But when I think about what's really important, I
can't find anything to top helping someone who needs it.  I'm not talking about
volunteering at the local soup kitchen, or building houses with Habitat for
Humanity.  Those are outstanding things to do, and should be encouraged.  But
I'm thinking about more basic acts of kindness, the ones that could be a part
of our lives everyday, the ones that are right there in front of us if we
choose to see them.  I'm talking about developing a personal philosophy that
pledges oneself to being a helping person.  I'm not forgetting, "Im Ain Ani Li
Mi Li," for a minute.  We all have to care for ourselves, protect ourselves. 
You know that I feel strongly that we are, each of us, our own personal ace in
the hole, our own best friend.  But what a world it would be if, each morning,
people woke up thinking, "I have many things to do today, let's see who I can
help along the way."


We live in a difficult world.  It seems filled with O.J.'s and Menendez
brothers, suicide bombers, and Louis Farrakhans.  Easy to let all that get you
down.  It's better, though when we realize that there are millions more Gimilut
Hasadim doers than those who would destroy the good of the world.  There has
never been a better time for "Tikkun Olam,"  fixing our world.  Last summer we
learned that eventually "Shalom Yavo, Peace will come."  And we dedicated
ourselves to that idea by singing, "Sh'Yatchil Iti!  LET IT BEGIN WITH ME!"  We
can each help to make this world a better place by imbedding the idea of
practicing random acts of loving kindness into our everyday thinking.  We
should be eager to help each other, we should be looking for opportunities to
make others happy, to show our love for our families and friends, to realize
the qualities rather than the imperfections in those we know, to just be a good
friend, parent, son or daughter, sister or brother. 


It's March.  In a short while camp will be upon us.  Think of the opportunities
for "Gemilut Hasidim" that present themselves during a summer here.  I am
thankful we are given such a chance to help others.  From helping homesick
campers to teaching unit heads, we are blessed with opportunities to give. 
Those opportunities exist for you as well, at home, in school, in your
fraternity or sorority houses.  Hey!  You can do it.  Call your Grandpa, out of
the blue, for no reason.  You'll feel the warmth of a beautiful, random act of
love.

Ron

Thursday, February 1, 1996

Dan Nichols

                                                                                                  February, 1996

Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:

Allow me to "Kvell."  One of our kids is on the move Jewishly and artistically,
and I think he is going to have a significant impact on the Jewish world.  I am
referring to Dan Nichols who has put together a new band called "Eighteen." 
Danny and his partner, Mason Cooper are writing, performing, and recording some
of the most exciting music I've heard in years.  Their songs speak to all ages,
but will have special meaning and attraction to those who grew up with rock and
roll.  They bring an enormous energy and enthusiasm to their work, coupled with
clever and compellingly relevant lyrics.  It's Jewish art in the making.


Danny was at camp for ten summers and so I feel a special bond with him.  Much
of his deep feeling for Judaism surfaced here in Zionsville.  Now he joins that
strong Jewish identity with his considerable musical talents.  This is music
that needs to be heard, and will be.  Danny and Mason are almost finished with
their first recording, "Here And Now," which will be released soon on CD.  They
are also putting together their first concert tour which will begin at OVFTY
Regionals in Cincinnati in March.  "Eighteen" will perform twice during the
summer here at camp, and several of our other UAHC camps have expressed
interest in having the band do concerts for their campers and staff during the
coming summer.  This is going to be the start of something big. 


 If you want to present a special musical program for your synagogue, Hillel, religious school,
NFTY region or sub region, I strongly urge you to give Dan Nichols a call, get
your hands on the "Here And Now" CD, invite "Eighteen" into your community. 
You can reach Dan at (615) 386-0011.  These fellows are going to knock our
socks off!


In recent weeks I have been all around the Midwest, speaking to families about
camp.  Camper applications have been coming in readily; our camp will be full
again this summer.  Happily, Avodah will reappear this summer with a group of
36 outstanding 12th graders.  I am concerned, however, because we, along with
most of the other UAHC camps, have been experiencing difficulties finding
counselors for the summer.  Unit Heads and other Leadership staff are all in
place, but several counselor positions remain open.  Most years we end up
turning people away, this year we are looking for good counselor prospects.  If
you know of anyone who you feel would be a good staff member in our program,
please encourage him/her to get in touch with me.  Counselor position salaries
have increased, and good jobs remain to be filled.  Please pass the word.
Thanks.


I know this isn't the "Creative" kind of staff letter I have been sending you,
but I wanted you know what was happening around here.  Sort of the good, the
bad, and the ugly of it all.  The good is Danny Nichols.  The bad is the search
for staff.  The ugly?  Well, last week I shaved off my beard.  I'll leave the
rest to your imagination.

Ron

Saturday, January 20, 1996

Dukes of Dixieland with My Dad

                                                                                                                       January, 1996


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


As far back as I can remember, I have been a fan of a particular band, the
Dukes of Dixieland.  I liked Dixieland, but I really fell in love with the
Dukes.  The original Dukes of Dixieland (other groups have used the name) began
in 1947 when brothers Frank and Fred Assunto formed their first highschool jazz
band and began playing their native New Orleans music.  They later turned pro,
were joined by their father, Papa Jac Assunto and the Dukes of Dixieland were
born.  Somehow, when I was about twelve years old, I became a fan.  It seems
funny to me now, looking back on it.  I had never been to New Orleans, never
seen the group on TV, new nothing of that form of jazz.  Must have heard them
on the radio and became an instant admirer.  I bought several of their records,
knew their names, absolutely adored Fred's trombone playing along with Papa
Jac's (he doubled on banjo).  Their music was alive.


In 1960, out for Sunday dinner with my family, I spied a poster on the
restaurant wall advertising a show the Dukes were performing that night at an
American Legion hall way out in Maywood, Illinois.  I begged my father to take
me.  My Dad was anything but a music lover (cars and the Cubs were his
passions), but after many words he caved in.  So, on that cold and snowy,
February night we were off to the far West side.  We found it to be a small
gathering, mostly Legion members, mostly interested in the open bar.  There was
a tiny portable stage set up in the social hall.  An audience of about one
hundred adults, and one kid, me, bubbling over with excitement, holding record
covers in my hand for possible autographs.


And then they appeared.  It was really them.  Fred on trumpet, Frank and Papa
Jac on trombones, backed by a bass/tuba player, clarinet, drums, and piano.  I
was psyched!  After their first set I got them to sign my album covers.  I felt
that they understood that I was there because I was a fan, not just someone out
for a nice evening; and so, we had a special relationship (now I'm sure that
thought never crossed their minds.  But hey, I was a kid).  Toward the end of
the evening Papa Jac stepped up to the mike to ask for requests.  My hand went
up like a shot.  They were used to people asking for well known Dixieland
numbers like, "When The Saints Go Marching In," or "Basin Street Blues," but
were surprised when Papa Jac said, "Let's hear what the kid wants," and I
requested an old New Orleans funeral tune (Woody Allen would have been proud of
me) called, "Oh Didn't He Ramble."  It's the tune played on the way back from
the cemetery when a New Orleans jazzman dies.  Its tempo starts out slow and
steadily gains speed.  It is at first a dirge, then a march, and finally it
breaks into a swinging Dixieland romp.  It celebrates the life that was.  They
began playing.  When the tempo picked up to a march, they began marching around
the room.  When they approached my seat, they paused, pulled me up and made me
the "Grand marshal" of that tiny New Orleans parade.  As silly as it sounds
now, it was quite a thrill for a fourteen year old fan. 

                                      
Yesterday, thirty-five years later, I was walking on my treadmill, listening to
the intricate blend of harmonies from one of those old albums taken from a
jacket with the Assuntos names scrawled on the back.  My mind wandered.  I
began thinking of how similar our camp Leadership Staff is to a Dixieland band
(I know, a mind is a terrible thing to waste).  No, but really, the Program
Director is the lead, like Frank Assunto with that brassy, high-toned trumpet. 
Closely follow the second leads, the Shoresh, Gezah, and Anaf Unit Heads on
clarinet and trombones.  All are supported by the Avodah-Unit-Head-Assistant-
Unit-Head-rhythm-section on bass/tuba, piano, and drums.  It's perfect.  Like
the Dukes, this Leadership Dixieland band plays in harmony (usually), with the
second leads blending behind the lead, playing the intros and the fills, the
rhythm section supporting them all.  And like the Dukes, each player has
his/her opportunity to take a solo or two and lead the group.  All are aiming
toward a common goal and bringing their own talents to its achievement.

Sometimes members of the band play in contrast to each other, against one
another, and tensions arise.  That's when Papa Jac raises his old trombone, and
blows a sweet solo bringing everyone back to the melody and to the realization
that, ultimately the tune's more important than any one part of it.  The
harmonies return and all blend together, swinging toward the final stanza

.
But this is more than just a musical analysis and a thought about camp.  It's a
memory of a snowy, February evening, my Dad and I out for an adventure
together, my chance to lead the parade for a moment or two.  It's the emotional
impression made by melodies gone by, and the anticipation of those yet to be
played; of slow tempos steadily gaining speed.

Ron