Forgive the personal riff. It is Sunday the 19th and I just returned home from a drive I have been making for some 55 years. In June of 1963 I got in my car to drive to be a cabin counselor at Camp Harlam in the Poconos. It is one of the camps affiliated with the Reform Movement. Who knew the impact! I was a naive kid in between his freshman and sophomore years who had been invited by people at the congregation that I grew up in to join the staff. Fast forward to today, as I drove my daughter and her husband (another camp couple) and my grandson to Harlam to pick up my granddaughter as her second summer ended. Three generations of our family have come to this place. As my granddaughter was saying her good-byes and her parents were struggling to fit all the “stuff” into the car, I was able to visit some of the camp and just have some private time to remember the times and the people who have been such a part of this journey. (Was I really that young when I began here?)
This camp journey is shared by many in so many different camp venues. There is something about the memories and the people. A few people remarked on some of the people I was close to, whose funerals I have officiated at these past few years. I remembered, as a staff member, greeting the parents and the grandparents of campers; and in a blink of an eye, I became one. There really is not much to say of any great profound nature. I was aware that time is passing ever so quickly. I looked at my granddaughter and listened as she related camp stories on the drive back to her house, reliving these times when I drove her mom and her uncle (my kids) down the same roads. Do these kids really know how lucky they are to be able to share weeks of a summer in such an environment? How wonderful to see the sheer expression of joy and happiness among people who , within a few hours, will have to return to “reality” of our daily life and the challenges of today. That is why it is so impossible to translate the camp experience to “back home”. The uniqueness of that experience, be it socializing in an activity or sitting with hundreds at camp Shabbat service, remains tied to the place. It is not translatable, as many of us who have tried have found out. There is something magical about sitting in an outdoor worship space on a summer Friday night, watching a full moon emerge over the mountains, joining hundreds of our people of all ages, from all over the world, dressed in their Shabbat whites, welcoming Shabbat in song and dance. Yet, while the experience may not be portable, the relationships are and, in the end, this is the glue that binds generations of camp kids together, even when they become camp adults.
I many ways, I am grateful for having the opportunity to make this drive again and see the summer experience from the yes of a grandchild. I know many who will not have that chance. The gratitude is tinged still with a sense of nostalgia and a touch of wistfulness. Maybe it is the upcoming Holidays and the Yahrtzeit this coming week of one of my closest friends. We are at the age when time and transitions mean more. We are at the age when these little moments come to take on just a little more meaning, and part of us prays and hopes that we are granted many more such summer drives.
Rabbi Richard Address