The first time my soon-to-be camp director came and gave a presentation at my religious school early one Saturday morning, he talked a little and then showed a video highlighting the amazing religious studies programs and Hebrew we would be able to learn if we attended camp.
And while that was well and good, all I saw was the beach and the horses and those looked sweet enough for me to start
Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute is Jewish Summer camp and when I would tell my friend back home what we did there, they often stared back with blank expressions. I think they were a little confused as to why I wanted to spend my summers studying Torah, praying and speaking Hebrew. And looking back on it, it does sound a little crazy, but I enjoyed doing these things, more than anything to be honest. OSRUI sparked my faith and helped me to realize I could enjoy my Judaism and I could make it my own.
Because it was a Jewish camp, we celebrated Shabbat (the sabbath) every Friday night. Everyone would get dressed up and we would begin the night with a special service. We prayed as a group twice a day, in the morning and before bed, but the Shabbat service was different-different prayers, different songs, different meaning. We began Shabbat with prayers of thankfulness that set the tone for the rest of the evening.
After the service, the whole camp would come together for dinner. During the week, our meals were pretty standard fare-even though we kept kosher, we had hamburgers, salads, sandwiches, etc. But since everyone, including the kitchen staff took Shabbat off, our meals were catered, lavish affairs. Roasted chicken, stuffed peppers, roasted vegetables, cakes and cookies for desert. It was all absolutely delicious.
After dinner, while fighting the food coma that was sure to come, the entire camp would migrate for shira, which means song in Hebrew. We would all cram into a room that was ample size any other day of the week but when the entire camp was in it, it was much more cozy. Everyone sat on the floor in a circle, the girls trying their hardest to be modest while sitting cross legged. The song leaders would start softly but the energy would rise quickly as the song leaders played the guitars and danced and jumped around the room, filling the room and woods surrounding with song. The kids would clap and dance from their seats, singing as loud as possible- in fact, most people woke up missing their voices the next day. It doesn't sound like it would be the most beautiful sound, but it was glorious-a few hundred people all singing in praise. Beautiful.
The director would get up half way through and tell a story of the Baal Shem Tov, an ancient Jewish rabbi known for his stories and anecdotes, while the song leaders softly plucked the strings on their guitars, untill after he finished when they all jumped in unison to lead us in more songs, eventually, slowly, winding down to a soft hum of guitar chords and many, many voices.
After shira, the little kids would shuffle off to their tents and cabins while the older kids would head to the sports center for everyones favorite part of the evening, Israeli dancing. During the week we could practice the dances every chance we would get-you would often pass a group of girls holding hands in a circle, spinning around the basketball court or a group in meticulous lines perfecting the "step-ball-change". Friday nights was the culmination of the hard work. Even though we spent a lot of time dressing up for Shabbat and began the evening looking decidedly more like adults that children, by the time Israeli dancing came, there was no mistaking who we were. Our once perfect hair and make-up was streaked with sweat and our fancy dresses were often stained with dirt and grass. But we laughed and giggled and danced the night away, following our Israeli counselors lead. Far too soon, we would wind back to our cabins, enjoying the cool summer air hitting our sweat stained faces and would stare mesmerized at the vast expanse of stars spread out above us.
What began as a yearning to swim and ride horses, left me with a life long connection and appreciation for my Judaism and years later, I still say the same prayers of thankfulness.
Lo telchi l'vadeich Ani eh'yeh sham itach You won't walk alone, I'll be there with you
Linking up with Mams Kat's Writer's Workshop for the Prompt: