Four Great Words from Camp

This has been a tremendous week at Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the camp community for a week each summer. To get to know the campers and to experience life here is truly amazing and gives a glimpse to our future Jewish leaders and community.
There were four words shared throughout this week that summarize camp.
Last night, Rabbi David Eschel asked the campers at Hess Kramer what do History and Memory mean? The campers shared thoughts about how one is long standing and will continue for years to come while another might eventually be lost. That history involves the pictures and documents passed down, but memory are the stories that are shared over generations. That both are a part of l’dor vador, and that we are expected to pass them on.
While at Hess Kramer, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Leadership, most especially on the final leg of their leadership hike. For three days, these campers traveled the Santa Monica Mountains, up on to ridges, down into a grotto and sleeping under the stars. On the final leg, a walk along the coast back to camp, this group was not so exhausted that they walked in silence. No, they chanted. Their energy building as they approached camp and the promise of a tradition passed on, to share the adventure with the other campers by literally giving each of them some of the earth they brought back. (All with some help of the mud pit created on Fitch Field).
Last night, Leadership Night, many alumni of previous Leadership years descended upon camp and shared their history and their memories of their Leadership experience. And together, the entire camp and guests sang our closing night songs, Shema and Hashkiveinu/Shelter Us. To hear all the voices together as one created more memory moments.

Throughout the week we also talked about Keva and Kavannah with both camps. Keva, the words of the prayers that we read from our prayerbooks. Kavannah, the meaning we find within the prayers either through word, song, or even art. Todd Silverman, the educator at Hilltop asked the campers what the differences were between keva and kavannah and how they can create kavannah when they pray. How can each individual find meaning in the service that goes beyond the words in the siddur but also in how each moment is an opportunity to reaching out to God and also to ourselves. To recognize and hold on to the moments that each of them create at camp. I led a special t’fillah during which I asked the campers to think about their favorite prayer and illustrate it only with paper and glue sticks. Their creations, filled with kavannah, said so much for how they internalized these words and their connections to God and the world.

Today, I picked up JediYeled from his 8 days of camp and the first thing he said, “I don’t want to leave!!!!” the best five words I could hear! I’m so excited that JediYeled had the opportunity to learn the history of years past and create memories of his own. While the campers sang they not only sang the words to prayers and farewell songs, but the emotions surrounding these moments were amazing!
This is camp! This is the foundation for so many years yet to come. These are moments that will last a life time!
Thank you Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp! Thank you to all of the staff and to all of the campers! You created this! And it is very good!

It’s Good to Be Back at Camp!

Last year, while on Sabbatical, we didn’t have the chance to come to camp (Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp) because we spent the summer in Israel. But coming back to camp this summer is a reminder as to why I love it so and why our kids do too.

When I first arrived and got settled in my room I heard a strange sound for Southern California in the summer – rain! It was just enough to get the outside chapel too wet for us to have evening services outside. I was disappointed that we were moved to Baruh Hall.

I took the time before services to go on a walk to the Menorah. For those who have never been here before, the Menorah at Hess Kramer overlooks the ocean and is appropriately named “Rabbi Alfred Wolf’s Inspiration Point.” And inspirational it truly is. There, as I stood overlooking the waves, a rainbow appeared, arching between sea and mountain. Absolutely spectacular!

I returned to Baruh Hall for services and in came over 200 campers and staff. As with any large group in a room with strong acoustics, it took a while to get them settled and ready to pray. No prayerbooks were passed out, rather, there was a screen with the prayers projected in the front of the room. Tonight, while we might not be outside we had the opportunity to experience prayer in a different way – looking up!

Services began and the camp community sang out. While I know that there is a strong level of participation in services at camp, tonight, everyone had the opportunity to truly hear how their prayers sounded. Usually, in the outside chapel, the sound dissipates into the surrounding trees and valley. But tonight, being in this enclosed space, we had the opportunity to really listen to our voices sing out in praise.

While I would not want every camp service to be inside – that’s just not camp – it was a great opportunity for the camp community to truly hear our voices.

And finally, in this space, within the walls of Baruh Hall, we were surrounded by the work of a great woman, Geri Schusterman, z’l, and the spirit of her beloved husband, Mel, z’l, who passed away this past year. Both of them dedicated years of their lives and their creative spirits to Camp Hess Kramer. Geri’s artwork is all around camp and for the most part, the colors have not faded. They tell a story of campers and a community now 60 years old. The campers and I’m sure most of the staff have no idea who created these beautiful pieces of art that adorn the camp – I wish they did. They would have loved to spend time with both Geri and Mel. But I would like to think that Geri and Mel are still here, still a part of Camp Hess Kramer, and lending their creative spirit still today.

And this was just the first day!