Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:
"As far back as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a Camp Director..." (adapted from the first line of the movie, "Goodfellas." [Thanks, Jer]. Well, at least as far back as the summer of 1969. I’d just finished college and almost convinced myself that that was to be my last summer in camp. But 1969 is long enough ago to qualify for "As far back as I can remember." Once I did realize where I was going with this camp thing, it took me six years to actually move into a Director's office (this, of course, does not count the times I snuck into the Director's office in Oconomowoc to sleep on his carpet in the air conditioning). I was reminded of all this last summer when our Goldman Union Camp Institute Staff and Avodahnikim gave me a gift worth remembering...they gave me an Oneg Shabbat. It was to honor my 25 years as Director here in Zionsville. How they kept it a secret from me, I'll never know (come to think of it, it must have been pretty easy to keep it a secret from me). I was completely surprised. As a matter of fact, I was really knocked out that week as it had been in the high 90's and even 100 degrees for days, and I was going to skip the Oneg and go to bed. It was that crafty Frank DeWoskin, our Program Director who said to me, "Come on. Let's just go see what's up with the Oneg." Yes. He's the one who got me there. Like leading a lamb to the slaughter.
Well, I was caught off guard (I guess that rooster got into my yard...), and completely touched by the thought and sentiment expressed that night (the food was good too). My staff gave me a collage of pictures of our camp centered on a beautiful aerial shot, with a caption at the bottom that reads, "All my memories gather 'round me." And bless those Avodahnikim if they didn't give me a genuine Cubs jersey with "Klotz 25" printed on the back. Eat your heart out Sammy Sosa. What a great way to commemorate an important personal milestone!
Did I tell you that just earlier that evening I met my Midurah buddy at the Shabbat campfire, as I did every Friday evening during Kallah Bet this summer? He's a Shoresh boy who I happened to sit next to at the first campfire of the session, and while I was thinking about whatever story I was about to tell, noticed that he wasn't singing. I leaned over and asked him if everything was all right. He replied with one of the most beautiful sentiments I had ever heard. He said, "Look at all of the faces around the campfire...and look at the sparks and the stars. Everyone is so happy. It’s just so beautiful. I want to take it all in. I want to remember this moment."
I've thought about what that eleven-year-old boy said to me that night. I've thought about it a lot. He was appreciating a blessing, recognizing it for what it was, a rare gift. He was savoring it, storing it, putting it away with his treasures. I think in his own way, my campfire buddy was saying the most sincere prayer of thanksgiving that one could offer. His wisdom reminded me to appreciate the blessings that are all around us. We met each week there after, without invitation or arrangement, in the same spot at the Midurah. We sang together. He liked my stories. I looked for him each Friday night. We both liked “Campfireing” together.
So, when I stood there in front of the staff and Avodah, during that Oneg, I followed my teacher’s advice. I looked at all the faces. I appreciated how happy we all were. I gave my thanks for the blessings of camp and community, for being given the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people over the years. And, I thought back to those days when I was just beginning to follow this path. All my memories gathered ‘round me.
I’m looking forward to next summer’s campfires already.
Monday, November 1, 1999
Wednesday, September 1, 1999
Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:
It’s been a long time since I’ve written. I hope this letter finds you enjoying the beginning of a wonderful New Year, number 5760. Shannah Tovah to you and your families. We are closing the books on another terrific summer here at camp. Even as those heavenly gates slammed shut and Yom Kippur sputtered into a break-the-fast, our Earlybird Applications were racing out to last summer’s campers while we all cried, “Here we go again!” Thank God!
I had a new experience this High Holiday; I went to Temple. I know, I’ve been in Temple for the Holidays every year since Abraham climbed the mountain with Isaac (it seems), but for the past twenty-seven or so years, I’ve been on the Bima. This year I went to Temple…as a congregant. I sat in the congregation with my family, I read the responses in Italics, I listened, I thought…a lot. I heard so many things in the services that I never heard before when I was reading them out loud. It surprised me. I was also moved by the absolute beauty of our liturgy, especially on Yom Kippur afternoon.
Being a congregant gave me more time. And I used that time to listen. What I heard was the blend of the words and moods of each service, mixed with my own thoughts, feelings, and memories. That recipe gave me a lot to chew on (pardon the poor fast-day metaphor). At times, I was transported back to my childhood days at B’nai Jehoshua in Chicago where I sat with my Mom and Dad, the other Klotz’s, Steiners, Garbers and Peaks. Sitting here in Indianapolis, I vividly remembered those days, when, as a youngster, I would run and play in the social hall downstairs until I was over-heated and red in the face. Or later as a teen, I’d sit in the balcony whispering with my friends during services, giggling and trying hard not to make too much noise.
But as important as was the time I had to listen and think, to pray and feel nostalgic, so was the emotional impact of being led in prayer by two of my campers who have become my Rabbis. We spent Rosh Ha Shannah with Sandford Kopnick and his family up in Ft. Wayne, and Yom Kippur here in our home congregation, Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation with Eric Bram. Sandford, as you know, started here at G.U.C.I. as a camper just after Abraham descended the mountain (so it seems) and stayed on through staff, program director, and faculty years. Eric was my camper back in Oconomowoc at Olin-Sang-Ruby, before I migrated south, and has served several summers on faculty here at G.U.C.I. Both now are my colleagues, both have become my teachers. Sitting in their congregations gave my High Holidays an added sense of depth and continuity. Through them I felt the connection between camp and the synagogue, and I must admit, I also felt a sense of pride for our movement at having produced two such accomplished and successful Rabbis. They each, “Made my day.”
Well, the years are rolling by, Jewish and otherwise. Here’s to a sweet one.Ron