by Rabbi Amy Ross, Educator at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX
The year is 1987. It’s my first full summer as a camper at the URJ Greene Family Camp. As the kid of a faculty member, I am already familiar with a few camp traditions. We have just finished dinner and are excitedly clearing our tables. The anticipation builds as we stare at the small stage in the chadar ochel, trying desperately to read the words of birkat hamazon painted on the huge wooden sign hanging on the wall. And then it happens – the song leaders pull their guitars out of the cases and stand in front of the mics. I can hardly contain my excitement. With the first chords, I am transported to a magical place where all that matters is the sound of hundreds of voices in unison and the joy of hundreds of feet dancing. I feel the magic, the bliss, the friendship, the noise, and the silence.
Today, I am serving as faculty at the camp that has become a part of the very fabric of who I am. My two children are with me and one of them is finally old enough to tag-a-long with a Bonim bunk during the day. I am perched on a chair behind the clump of kids sitting on the floor, all staring at the words of birkat hamazon on screens on each side of the stage of the now not-so-new chadar ochel. The song leaders are about to begin song session and my two children run to the front of the group and sit down. My dear friend Rabbi Noam Katz is also visiting camp this week, and he leads his song, Zeh bazeh, which includes giving a high-five to the camper next to you. I watch transfixed as my daughter enthusiastically jumps up, singing at the top of her lungs, giving high fives to her new friends from the “Haifa Hamburgers.” That all too familiar lump forms in my throat and for just a moment, I long for the chance to reverse the clock and start all over again.
But then I realize that the magic has worked. Though the words are on screens instead of in shabbily-bound Shireynu songbooks, though the sound is crisper coming through the modern day speakers, the anticipation is still palpable in the air. The voices continue to sing in unison. The feet continue to dance with joy. The magic, the bliss, the friendship, the noise, and the silence, become the gifts I give my children. More accurately, they become the gifts that camp will give my children.
In a way, I do get to start over again. But this time I get to experience camp through the eyes of my children. I get to watch them sing and dance. I get to watch them grow into full-fledged campers, and then, if I’m lucky, into staff members. Who knows? Perhaps one of them will even end up a song leader.