Thursday, September 11, 2008

A bunch of people who went to my camp 30 years ago got together this weekend - all because of you. It is a bit of a long story. The short version is that a guy I went to camp with all those years ago, Barry Eisenberg, saw me mention Camp Tel Shalom, here in these letters to you. He got in touch and we decided to put together a reunion.

Barry is a beautiful writer and even more beautiful person.

He said some very sweet and very funny things at the reunion. I asked him for a copy. Like your brother Jack, you would have loved camp.

Barry Eisenberg
Reunion Remarks
September 6, 2008
Hakshevu, hakshevuna, Camp Tel Shalom! I want to welcome you all to the reunion, and thank you so much for braving the weather – particularly those of you who came long distances.  I also want to thank you for your enthusiastic response to this reunion from the moment we launched the idea. It is a tribute to Marshall Green, Karen, the entire staff and even campers that together we all played a role in creating such a special place that even after 30-plus years still means so much to us.
My remarks are a mixture of my perspective as one of the organizers of this event, and just my personal thoughts as a camper for four years. Over the last year, and particularly over the last 2-3 months, Allen Goldberg and I have spent a lot of time talking to each other, to some of you, and even to interested people outside our camp community about what it all means, major themes and big questions. And a few days ago I realized that, without knowing it at the time, when I wrote the short intro to the camp reunion web site I had actually captured some of the major themes about the camp Tel Shalom experience that are personally meaningful to me (and I hope to most of you as well).  Paraphrasing a little bit, I wrote on the web site that Camp Tel Shalom was…
a launching pad, a proving ground or coming-of-age incubator that spurred growth to new places and phases. For others it was simply a fun place that bolstered their confidence, offering a chance to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Remember the way 100-plus voices rocked the chader ochel with rousing renditions of Im Tirtzu or Bashanah Haba'ah? Whatever happened to the girl sitting next to you who always softly sang harmony to Dodi Li? Was Camp Tel Shalom the site of your first romantic kiss or your first real girlfriend/boyfriend? Do you remember learning to swim or navigate a kayak in the slimy-bottomed lake? Were you amazed when you chanted the birkat hamazon as well as the kids from Jewish Day School?
For me, those lines reflect the strong sense of community that our camp built really rapidly.  How friendships, romances and bonds are formed extraordinarily fast when you are living a highly concentrated daily life that is jam-packed with excitement, achievements, challenges, and so many rituals  -- both religious and secular  -- in a supportive and communal environment. Things happen faster and with greater impact in our “world away” than in the “real world.”
In particular, the lines about being a bigger fish in a smaller pond are personally meaningful. Camp was important to developing self-confidence, trying new things, being a little bolder than you were at school.  Once you got on the bus at Adas Israel and departed for camp, your confidence was bolstered. At camp, you walked a little taller and with a strut to your step, you were more self-assured and flirtatious with the opposite sex than at school. And at the end of camp, you went back to school and the more diverse, secular world, still equipped with at least some of that gained confidence.
The sentences on the camp web site that mention singing Im Tirtzu and Bashhanah Haba'ah and being amazed when, after only a week, you could chant the birkat hamazon – and enjoy it – point to a crucial role Camp Tel Shalom played in giving some of us a greater sense of Jewish identity and pride.  Particularly for those of us, like myself at ages 11-14, who were not so receptive to what seemed like stale lessons being delivered at Hebrew school and the institutionalized spirituality at my synagogue’s services. Camp was almost like sugar that made the medicine go down for a kid like me. In fact, at camp, it was no longer medicine at all. Certainly for a young kid, the beauty and spirit experienced at outdoor services in a rural setting, or the loud, highly energized singing of Hebrew songs in the camp dining hall, instilled a strong Jewish pride that I had not found elsewhere and I am grateful that camp gave me this taste.
As I looked forward to this reunion tonight, and wondered what it would be like to see you all after 30 years, another theme struck me.  Over the months leading up to tonight I have communicated by email with so many former counselors who, in all probability, I had never said more than three words to as a kid. I began to enjoy the initially strange yet eventually nice leveling of the age gaps and social structure that seemed immense at camp but have disappeared today. For example, when I was 13-14 years old at camp, my counselors were my friends, but also caretakers and authority figures. Today I realize they were practically kids themselves -- many in college and most maybe only 4-6 years older than me.  Similarly, the gap between the oldest campers of say 15 and the youngest at 8 or 9 seemed so huge at camp. I really didn’t pay attention to the Chalutzim when I was in Bogrim. Now one of those whippersnappers could be my boss!  So, 30 years later, the reunion flattens all that out in a fun way as we have all become middle aged peers!  At least I think so…But I did have this dream about a week ago…
DREAM:  A beer with Jeff Bernstein, brings out paper plate job wheel, cleaning toilets, Aryeh Davis: “or else no canteen.”
I want to finish up by thanking a few groups of people in particular for keeping the Camp Tel Shalom spark going in me over 30 years – enough so that I would be crazy enough to be involved in planning this evening. 
1.        I want to thank Herman Rubenstein and his family.  A few months ago my friend, Paul Finver, asked me, "Do you realize how beautiful Buffalo Gap was?” And it really was and we should all thank the Rubensteins for such a setting for our camp.  But I also thank Herman for really getting me to the Camp Tel Shalom community at all. In 1972 he came to my family’s house in Silver Spring with his camp slide show and convinced my parents to send me to good old, secular Buffalo Gap Camp with my brother and my oldest friend, Peter Shapiro, who many of you know. I really liked that camp, went back in 1973, and was prepared to return again in 1974 when a letter came to my parents explaining that Buffalo Gap Camp would be closing, but encouraging me to give something called Camp Tel Shalom -- a new camp that would be using the same property -- a try. I’m so glad I did. So thanks, Herman. 
2.       I want to thank the 30-40 people – many who are in this room – who, like me, took their Camp Tel Shalom experience with them over to the Ramblewood location of the camp in 1981.  I was a counselor there for four years, and despite the Camp Tel Shalom name, it was really a different camp, a totally different era.  But those 30-40 people who went over to this new Camp Tel Shalom tried to bring over some tradition and institutional memory from the 1970s era of the camp, and that went a long way in making it a good experience for me.  It kept the spark alive. 
3.       I want to thank everyone who sent us photos, rosters, ideas and suggestions that made this reunion so much better than our reunion committee could have managed on our own. Speaking of which, I particularly want to thank Penina Handlesman Maya, Andrea Schneider Rozner, Dale Madden Sorcher, Sharon Burka, and Jon Miller for all of their heavy lifting. And a huge thank you to Cantor Rochelle Helzner and Carmi Cohen Kobren for leading our Havdala service tonight and bringing the musical element to this reunion that was such a critical component of our camp. It would not be the same tonight without your contribution. 
4.       Lastly, I’d like to go back to the beginning…and thank my partner, Allen Goldberg, for his cool-headedness, creativity, drive to get things done and just for sharing the load.  OK, and I guess also for putting up with me sometimes being a nudge and with my all my muschagas. Particularly my near meltdown in mid-June which prompted a memorable email reply to me from Allen with the subject line of “Dude, dude, dude.”  I hope, Allen, that you agree that all in all it was a lot of fun and very rewarding. 
Allen and I really didn’t know each other that well at camp. But it’s really cool to be able to say that you’ve made a new camp friend 30 years later.
I want to thank Allen along with Henry – Allen and Laurie’s son who passed away in 2002, for really being the catalyst for this whole event.  After Henry died, Allen and Laurie started the Hope for Henry Foundation, which works to improve the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses. In 2006, I guess I was feeling nostalgic and I was surfing the net  and decided o Google “Camp Tel Shalom”  to hopefully find out what eventually happened to it or if anyone was blogging or chatting about it.  There was only one single result that came back that had anything to do with our Camp Tel Shalom.  It was a few sentences about the camp that Allen had written in 2004 on his “Dear Henry” blog in which he writes letters to his son. That was the only mention. I remembered Allen from camp, so I contacted him and, well, here we are today at a reunion.
I think it’s just wonderful that the catalyst for a camp reunion is a child. So, thanks to Henry Strongin Goldberg as well.

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