One of my rabbis growing up was Steve Karol and he did something very special for me one Sunday morning during religious school. He convinced my parents that (a) I was ready to go to sleep away camp, (b) that Eisner Camp would be a great choice for me and (c) that the Temple would help make it financially possible! So, in the summer of 1978 I began my URJ camping journey at Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA. I have to say, URJ summer camp was one of the best things that ever happened to me...
My camp experiences grew from being an Eisner camper in Ofarim and Tzofim to being a part of the very first Olim unit in 1980. I became a song leader that summer and was elected regional NELFTY song leader upon my return to Buffalo. My experiences at Eisner led me to the Rabbinate and eventually to Goldman Union Camp in Zionsville, IN where I served as a Shoresh counselor and Unit Head for Avodah and Gezah. Priceless memories - Goldman Union Camp became the place where I could be myself, share my skills and add to the community. It really did not matter whether I was tucking campers in at night, cleaning the pool filters or the bathhouses or spending a night out with fellow counselors, I was able to grow in a safe place, be nurtured by others and allow others to help me navigate the challenges that inevitably came along summer after summer.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of returning to the place where it all began, to Eisner, during a summer session, for the first time in over 30 years. I realized that though I had changed considerably, camp was still camp. I think many of those with me at camp this past weekend, recalled and perhaps even re-experienced those first moments on camp: not really knowing all the tunes to the songs and the prayers, or the way that relationships restarted like it had been 30 minutes and not 30 years. I witnessed two children walking together, and I stood with their parents who told me how they developed a relationship with one another in this exact same space. I marveled at Shabbat Morning Services in the Chadar Ochel and how the songs, some new and some 40 years old, filled the room with the beautiful sound of Crane Lake campers singing in harmony.
I truly believe that when Rabbi Karol send me to camp, he gave me an immeasurable gift and I consider it my honor and privilege to share that gift with my students today. I never would have imagined that more than 30 years after stepping out of that van in front of the Manor House, I would one day be able to watch and "kvell" over an inspiring new generation of Eisner and now Crane Lake campers and staff - It was a moving day - and I can't wait to return again!