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.