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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

About Brubeck

                                                                                                December 29, 2009

Dear G.U.C.I. Alumni:

I’ve been thinking lately about the year 1960.  It was a big year for me.  I entered high school that year, I saw Pete Seeger for the first time that year, I put on a football helmet for the first time.  It was in 1960 that I would hear the jazz album that would direct my musical interest for the next fifty years. 

A couple of years earlier my parents moved us from the north side of Chicago back to the family reservation on the west side of town.  But, I still got on the El often to return to Rogers Park to see my best friend Gene and spend time in the old neighborhood.  It was on one of those trips that Gene told me that his uncle had left him the keys to his apartment and that he wanted to go spend the weekend there.  It was a different world then and my parents had no problem letting me go with Gene.  So, two fourteen year olds go off to spend a weekend alone in an apartment on Waveland Avenue in Chi town.  Perfectly normal, right?  Well it was kind of normal.

My buddy Gene was a budding jazz fan and brought a few albums for us to hear on his uncle’s record player.  That’s when I heard it.  I’ve been listening to it ever since.  Gene showed me an album cover with some weird abstract art on it and said, “Wait ‘til you hear this.”  The album was “Time Out” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  I never heard anything like it.  It was thirty-four minutes of energy, improvisation, changing tempos, swinging and not swinging and then swinging again, jazz.   I’d soon learn that Paul Desmond was the alto sax player in the quartet whose unique sound would uplift and haunt you at the same time; and that Joe Morello was the drummer who could actually play a melody (in any time frame) on the drums.  We must have listened to that album twenty-five times that weekend.  I had the two best known numbers, Blue Rondo ala Turk, and (of course) Take Five, imbedded in my psyche by the time I caught the train home. 

Later I bought the album.  I wore it out, literally.  I bought it again, then once more before it finally came out on CD.  Last month “Time Out” was re-mastered and re-issued along with a DVD of the Brubeck Quartet to mark the fiftieth anniversary of its first release.  It’s magnificent!  It’s the music that led me to investigate and fall in love with jazz.  It started with “Time out” and expanded chronologically in both directions from traditional jazz to swing to be bop to modern; from Armstrong to Goodman to Basie, to Davis, Pepper, Getz, Rich, et al.  It started with that abstract art album cover and my buddy, Gene saying, “Wait ‘til you hear this.” 

Brubeck is being honored tonight on the Kennedy Center Awards program.  I owe him a deep debt of gratitude; and to my buddy, Gene.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

26 Year-Old Time Capsule

I know I’m going to sound like your parents (and even my parents) but, where the heck does the time go?  Every year when the leaves begin to fall and footballs fly, I wonder what happened to the months.  Camp starts and ends in a flash (I always maintained that at camp there are only two days of the week, Shabbat and not-Shabbat; and that throughout the summer the days drag and the weeks fly by).  But really, this time around I blinked in June, and it was now. 

What a year we had here at camp.  We built a beautiful new performing arts center, had a marvelous programmatic summer, once again saw a Klotz in Camp K’ton (Zoe carries on Jeremy, Michael and Melissa’s K’ton tradition), and we avoided the flu (Avodah ‘09’s cheer was, “We beat the swine in 2009”).  Anaf Project in the new building was magnificent as were Chugim presentations, two Dan Nichols and E18ghteen concerts, all-camp Shiurim and final friendship circles.
During Kallah Aleph Rabbi Jim Bennett and I dug up a time capsule we (Jim and I) had buried twenty-six years ago, on the occasion of the camp’s twenty-fifth anniversary, when Jim was Program Director.  We were going to dig it up last year on our 50th, but I forgot about it (what a maroon...to quote Bugs Bunny).  Getting it out of the ground at the back of the Beit T’fillah was a real chore.  It took four of us and the tractor to get it out.  We had buried an old safe and every cabin contributed to the capsule.  You wouldn’t believe the things we found.  First there was an Avodah shirt signed by all of our Avodah ’83 campers and the unit heads, Dawn Cincinnatus Bernstein and Lee Freedman.  It was quite moving to point out to the camp when we presented our “artifacts” that Dawn’s son Kyle was “in the house,” currently a counselor and song leader. So were Jim’s kids; Abby a counselor, Ethan an Avodahnik, and Michelle a camper.  There were so many other living connections to that summer so long ago.  Jim and I told the story of burying the capsule and displayed the contents at an all-camp Shiur.  We immediately began collecting items for a new time capsule that we buried at the end of Kallah Bet.  Talk about experiential education at its finest.

The new leadership of our Joint camp Authority (Sandy Adland, Chair and David Barrett, co-Chair) and I are starting to put together an alumni committee to plan an alumni-family Shabbat at camp next August.  You’ll hear more about this as it
becomes more concrete.  It’ll be great to celebrate another Shabbat together G.U.C.I. style with our kids and grandchildren.  

You know what?  It’ll be here before you know it.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reading Avodah Applications

                                                                               December 29, 2009

Dear G.U.C.I. Alumni:

It has been a long time since I’ve written a “Staff Letter.”  You old timers may remember when I used to do so.  Here I sit in my usual place in Zionsville on a clear and sunny, snow covered and freezing day, alone in the office watching the year melt away.  It’s quiet here.  That’s unusual for G.U.C.I. It’s nice.

Camp seems far away when December hits town.  There is nothing campy here at all; no kids, no sweat, no campfires to build or pools to chlorinate, no Shiurim to plan or guitars to tune.  But just when we seem to have hit the G.U.C.I. winter solstice a light appeared to brighten these shortest of days.  It’s Avodah.  Don’t get me wrong, there are no Avodahnikim around sweeping, plunging, telling people to get off of their porch.  No.  There are no Avodahnikim at all.  That’s the point.  By next week I have to pick who will be in this amazingly adolescent camp family next summer.  In a week or so I have to let the kids know who’s coming to Avodah 2010.

So, I have been reading Avodah applications and essays all day.  That’s the light.  That’s what is making camp seem close even on a day when I can see through the trees all the way to the boys’ area from my office, without even one leaf to inhibit the view.  I’ve just read the reasons why fifty entering eleventh graders want to spend nine weeks next summer at camp.  Those essays blow me away.  These kids are talking about community, responsibility, giving back to the place that has been their second home, Jewish identity and education, friendship, Tikkun Olam, and more.  It is a knockout to hear what kids think and feel about the place that we have been building all these years.  Many also mention plunging toilets and serving food… in the same sentence (makes one stop and think, eh?).  And although these kids don’t really know what they are getting into, I can already sense their spirit, their humor, and certainly their love for camp. 

I often think about camp’s momentum.  It is true that we start the ball rolling, but as it rolls it carries us along.  I’ve had the good fortune to be swept up in the momentum today by future Avodahnikim and their deep passion for all the good things G.U.C.I. can be.  It’s not about, “If you build it they will come,” rather it’s, If you build it they will  bring it to life and illuminate it with their spirit.  This has been a good day for me.  I’m beginning to see the light.