“’The time has come’, the Walrus said, ‘To talk of many things: Of camp – and kids – and families – a community that sings- And why things always have to change – And leaving all these things’”. (Apologies to another Louis; Louis Carroll).
It is interesting to be entering a new phase in my life while the Camp, and the world, are entering a new phase in theirs. We are hearing that the new normal will never be the same as the old normal. That is true for all of us.
What I DO know is what the Greene Camp Family has given to me in my 43 years at GFC. I hope that GFC has taught me what I need to know to finally have my own “closing day”.
Greene has the team that it deserves to see it into the future. Rabbi Erin Mason, former camper, staffer, and assistant director is going to provide the kind of leadership and vision required to meet the challenges of our changing community – both the Jewish community and the world community in which it lives. Even before the COVID challenges, our Jewish sphere and its institutions were in flux. Add to that changes in family structure, gender identity, religious affiliation, organizational membership, etc. that are sweeping over us. Erin, Larry Nathan, and the rest of the GFC team have the insight, life experience, and “chops” to turn the challenges into opportunities.
My decades of assistant directors are the REAL reason that camp has achieved the success that it did. They kept most of my worst ideas from coming to fruition. They had the best ideas in the world and the ability to execute them. Some of them became camp directors and leaders of our movement. I could not be prouder.
Our operational and administrative staff is one of the unheralded keys to our success. Working behind the scenes, they know our camp and its program and its program and objectives as any of our program staff. They provide the physical environment that keeps the rest of us health, safe, and fed! We could not do it without them and their tenures at camp rival that of any other members of our staff. Many have been with us for decades. Andres, Frances, JoNell and Rose have been keys to our success.
The “L’dor V’dor” – generation to generation – nature of our operation ensured that the chairpersonship of Carol Margolis, former camper, and staff member, would pass to Mark Levine, also a Greene alumnus. And that his position as vice-chair would be filled by Michelle Lynn-Sachs, also an alumna of GFC. And it’s not just that the leadership comes up from within. These people as professionals in their fields and as camp parents are uniquely suited to helping Camp through whatever is coming.
We all stand on the shoulders of the Camp’s founders and original benefactors. Edward C. Greene was not only a benefactor, but he was also chair and remained active in our camp until his untimely passing. Ilene, his widow, is still active on the camp committee. Camp Chairpeople Arnold Miller and Davna Brook were members of the original group that formed our camp along with Harry Wood, Jr. and Bob Rosow. They all joined with Rabbi Sol Kaplan to originate the project. Michael Wolf, Michael Solka, Harry Levy, Steve Donchin, and Carol Margolis were the chairs who later took the baton and ran with it.
We all owe a supreme debt of gratitude to Rabbi Lawrence “Jake” Jackofsky and his wife Dr. Ellen Jackofsky. As the first Camp Director, Jake really kicked off the camp and its culture. He later became the Director of the UAHC’s Southwest Region. He lives on in all our memories. I hope that he, and our founders, would be happy with what we have done to the place.
I have had the opportunity to learn from a huge group of people. On a Zoom call with URJ Staff a couple of days ago, I realized that I had worked with every one of the two-screens-worth of people on some specific project or another. The team effort was the most important and enjoyable part of everything that I did within the URJ. The thing that I will miss the most is being part of those team efforts, whatever the project might have been and whatever the outcome was. “The medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan). It was the group effort that resonated, whether it was a summer, a crisis, or a URJ Biennial.
My colleague Camp Directors provided many of the memorable moments of my career. We always have each other’s backs and all of us felt the same kind of stress that comes with the responsibility for other people’s children. The directors of our URJ camp movement were responsible for helping me develop my skills and develop the camp. Thanks to Rabbi Allan Smith, Miriam Chilton, Ruben Arquilevich, and of course, Paul J. Reichenbach.
The organization itself gave me the chance to take risks. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to use the camp to help people. I cannot think of very many organizations who would allow their assets to be used with no notice to provide emergency shelter to strangers uprooted by hurricanes. Or to provide weeks of controversial refuge to children arriving at our borders. Or allow its staff to create emergency day-care-day-camps in cities struck by natural disasters. I will be forever grateful for the support.
My gratitude especially goes out to all the parents over all the years who have entrusted their children to us. The trust that our congregations placed in us as they recommended that those parents get involved in camp enabled us to grow and flourish. And the fact that now so many of those parents, rabbis, and educators are themselves alumni of GFC is especially gratifying.
Camp is a creative environment, and the opportunities it gave me were only limited by creativity (and budget!). My sons, Jonathan and Zachary, noticed that I got to play “Sim City” for real. When I was young, I used to build models. Now I got to design, build, and occasionally move around, real buildings and things. I got to keep writing music and playing the guitar, even well into adulthood. And people sang! I will be forever grateful for that.
My children grew up at Camp. They are who they are because of camp. “It takes a village” to raise a family, and we have one of the best villages ever. Sheila and I will always be in debt to GFC for helping turn our sons into the people they have become. And the URJ, GFC and I will always be grateful to Dr. Sheila Marcks Dobin, from Houston, Texas, for allowing me over four decades in this job. It has not always been easy.
As I said in my “goodbye letter”:
What more could a guy ask for.
So long and thanks for all the kugel.