Dear Family and Friends:
Those of us in the extended Goldman Union Camp Institute family have been following, with fear in our hearts, the events that began last week at camp. Lightning, out of the blue, struck three campers on the Migrash Sport (athletic field). Our camp staff acted without hesitation saving lives with CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Two of those campers have been released from the hospital; yet one remains in critical but stable condition. The campers' families have established a fund at the camp in honor of those unbelievably brave staff members to ensure future staff training and equipment. I'm sure that if you want to contribute, you can get more information from G.U.C.I.
At another Jewish camp in Northern California, a tree fell and killed one staff member. Unbelievable. Parents send their kids to camp to have a good time, make friends for life, and learn a little about themselves and our Jewish heritage....and tragedy happens.
I guess one could say that this is an ultimate teachable moment. I've had numerous conversations this week with friends who question, "How could God let something like this happen?" and, "How can one have faith in the midst of so much doubt?" With the High Holy days approaching early this fall, I know that many of us will be wrestling with such questions. When we read the Unetane Tokef on Yom Kippur..."Who shall live and who shall die. Who by fire and who by water, etc?" how will we be able to think of a God who drops a tree on an innocent camp staff member or strikes three little ultimate Frisbee players down with lightning? I, myself won't have such a dilemma. I'll tell you why.
In my life, I have been greatly affected by the book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Rabbi Kushner. He struggles with the above mentioned questions, and so many more, after experiencing the loss of a child. Rabbi Kushner's ultimate answer may have been my greatest faith lesson. Brilliant in its simplicity, Kusher teaches us that it is not God that makes disasters like these happen. They happen, period. God, or faith, helps us cope with life and life is full of terrible things. In spite of it all, we can still believe in goodness, spirit, the strength we derive from our families, communities and our Peoplehood, and even some sort of grand scheme to existence. Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye showed us that we can be angry with God, we can rail against the inequities of life, we can tear out our hair in despair; but we can also marvel at the fact that there is life, there is solace, there is beauty, and there can be faith.
Understand that anyone who has all the answers is to be greatly distrusted. You can trust me. I don't have many answers. Like most of us, I've carried a full case of doubt around forever. The longer I have lived the more I have come to realize that doubt may be a good thing. Blind faith may be for some, but not me. Doubt (as my football coach used to say) keeps the defense honest. Doubt keeps me on my faith toes. But just as I doubt (really) blind faith, I have much more faith than blind doubt. Most of the questions in my heart I answer with simple "I don't knows." But I can't help but look at the world around us and marvel at its sunsets, smile at babies, and see good in almost everyone I know. Those miracles, and so many others, are part of life too.
If these ramblings don't make any sense to you, well, that's why God created the Delete button.
In any event, we sit in the comfort of our homes, drive in our air conditioned cars while those G.U.C.I. counselors, unit heads, camp director, camp faculty and board members did us proud by their actions and reactions. The healing continues. Their work is sacred, important, and they do it with love. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude. I'm going to add to this the letter I sent to our G.U.C.I. staff last week.
Keep the faith, if you know what I mean.
Dear G.U.C.I. Staff and Avodah:
Words just about escape me after what you all have been through last Shabbat. I've read all of the accounts and heard first hand from Mark, Jeremy Klotz and Paul Reichenbach, and can only tell you how proud I am of you. After all of my many years at camp I can honestly say that I have no idea what it was like to face the crisis you did last Saturday. Nevertheless I do know what it is like to be a part of the team and part of the spirit of our camp. You, as a staff, have shown us all your depth, your commitment, and your love.
From a Jewish perspective, as we sing daily, you all have been given the opportunity to make our world a better place, and have done so. I’m sure that the recovery process will continue and that you will love each other through it. Fortunately there is healing in the work at camp, in all of the small moments with your kids and each other, in your humor and your music, and your T’fillot.
For all of you, those with whom I've worked in the past and those newer to the camp community, I am immensely proud…even to be remotely connected to G.U.C.I.
There is a lot of summer left, a lot of kids to be touched by your magic, a lot of smiles, a lot of new Hebrew words to be learned. A lot of A minor and D minor chords to be played. I know that you will play them well and teach them well and that you will be enriched in the process.
Thank you for being who you are…the best of us.