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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Secret Times and the American Pastime

                                                                                                July, 2013

Dear Family and Friends:

A couple of nights ago I watched the Major League baseball All-Star Game.  What’s so interesting about watching a ball game anyway?  Well for 36 summers I worked at Goldman Union Camp Institute and for 10 or so summers before that I worked at Olin- Sang-Ruby Union Institute.  Both are summer camps and when you work in a summer camp, days blend into one another, the time between one Shabbat and the next is just an instant, and who (at camp) even knows when the All-Star game is even happening?
This game brings together the best players in the American and National leagues.  They are the best baseball players in the world, (I dare say) and most American baseball fans are excited about it.  When I was a kid, I was too.  That was before all of those summers at camp with no TV or time to even think about the sport I loved so as a boy.

So, here I am, retired, at home in the summer and able to once again tune into the game.  You know, I really am not very interested in All-Star games.  Nowadays the game is important because the winning league gets home field advantage for the game of games, The World Series.  I’m a National League person.  But I know that even if the NL pulls off a victory, the World Series will not be played in a “Field”  (as in Wrigley) but most likely in a “Stadium” (as in Busch), or a “Park.”  This troubles me.   Nevertheless I watch, and the American League wins anyway.

So I’m up in my lair, watching the game and I flashback to a time long ago when All-Star games were so important to me.  The year is 1958.  Believe it or not, in those days I’m a Chicago White Sox fan (that would last until the mid 60’s…it probably was a rebellion.  My dad was avid Cubs fan).  So, it’s 1958 and some unbelievable players are in the game.  To start with the Sox’s second baseman, Nellie Fox; and shortstop Louis Aparicio (later to become Nellie’s son-in-law, but I digress) one of the greatest double –play combinations in all of baseball history (or at least the history of baseball in my lifetime).  Joining these heroes of mine was another all-time great, Mickey Mantle.  Mantle played center field for the much hated (because they were such a powerful and winning team) New York Yankees.  I hated the Yankees…but I had a picture of Mickey Mantle in my bedroom.  Some of the best ever played for the National League, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Warren Spahn to name a few.

So I’m watching the game here in 2013 flashing back to ’58 but not thinking about these historic names, or even thinking of the game itself at all.  Rather, I’m thinking of the setting in which I heard the game.  That’s right, heard the game on the radio, as did millions in those days.  But when one listened to such games announced by outstanding sports announcers who painted pictures with their words, you really did see the game, in your head, that is.    In 1958 I was twelve years old.  It was my first summer as a camper at Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  I’d been a camper for four years already at other camps because our Reform Movement camps in those days did not take campers younger than twelve.  Funny, I didn't know that it would be the first of fifty-two summers I would be spending in our Reform Jewish summer camp programs.
I remember the night of that All-Star game.  We must have been listening to a rebroadcast of the game as baseball was pretty much an afternoon sport back then.  I was a camper in one of the small white cabins on the Big House lawn near the lake (we didn't know enough Hebrew then to call it the Bayit, as it is called today).  I can see it in my mind.  It’s late at night, dark in the cabin while ten or twelve of us twelve-year olds huddle around a bottom bunk at the back of the cabin, ears “glued” to a small transistor radio.  We had to listen quietly so we wouldn't attract the attention of the counselors on late night “OD.” I remember nothing of the game.  I remember everything of the excitement of sneaking around, like thieves in the night, outrageously listening to baseball when we were supposed to be fast asleep in our bunks.  How dastardly.  What rebels we were.  How delicious to have such an innocent adventure in the dark with cabin mates.
Such “secret” times still happen in cabins in camps around the world.  Times that kids will think back on when they are retired and something triggers a memory.  In 1958 it was my time, my cabin, my All-Star game.  I loved remembering it the other night.  I watched baseball but thought about kids at camp making memories.  Our granddaughter, Zoe is a camper at this moment.  I know she’s having those secret times.  Good for her.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Tough Questions

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.

Ron Klotz