by Louis Bordman, Senior Director
I just returned home from my annual trip to Israel in preparation for another incredible summer at URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps. But this was like no other trip that I can recall. And the best way I can describe it is through the sounds of Israel as I experienced them.
It started with a siren. Not the siren of a police car or an ambulance, but an air raid type siren, like the ones we hear in movies about World War II. They’re the type that not only hurt your ears but that you feel deep in your body and bones. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, at 10:00 am on the dot, throughout Israel, work ceases and traffic stops moving. People put down their tools and move away from their computers. Drivers and passengers alike step out of their cars, turning highways and side streets into parking lots. People stand together in unity to commemorate this moment. For me, I was overcome with emotion as this day recognized the defiance of a plan that was designed to end Judaism. I was standing in a place and among a people that were not supposed to be there. I was part of a worldwide community that was not meant to exist.
Next came the sound of the world waking up. Car doors slamming, jackhammers pounding into concrete. Around me, on Kibbutz Shefayim, I heard the voices of the new shlichim walking onto the grounds. Their enthusiasm and excitement, while subdued by the solemnity of the day, was still palpable. What’s more, I could not miss the promise and light in their eyes as they excitedly met one another for the first time. All told, there were 800 emissaries of Israel, 300 going to URJ Reform Movement camps and the balance attending Ramah, Young Judea and other independent Jewish camps. They only represent a third of the shlichim traveling throughout the world to strengthen Israel relations, Israel education and Judaism throughout the world. My heart was full knowing that Judaism did not end, and that we were beginning anew as we do each year of strengthening the Jewish people through our camp programs.
Friday I heard a different sound—the sound of a groom shattering a glass. I was invited to attend my first Israeli wedding, one that was intentionally scheduled during the Seminar to ensure that I and other camp folk could attend. This was Ran Rinker and Inbar Kofman’s wedding! They were Israeli staff members in 2014-2016. Ran became our Rosh Mishlachat (head of the Israeli delegation) and Inbar headed our Teva (overnight camping) program. Last summer, Ran joined us for a short time second session to not only organize Maccabiah (color war), but to ask Inbar to marry him while at camp! The majority of our Israeli staff claim to be secular Jews, as the feeling in Israel is that you are religious or not and that’s it, nothing else is an option. Although not recognized by the State, we do have a thriving Reform community in Israel with congregations throughout the country. (Fun fact: we also have campers from the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism at camp each summer.) These two shlichim came to camp not knowing one another and soon fell in love with each other and with Judaism! I was blessed to witness this wedding, officiated by Reform Rabbi Golan Ben-Chorin, and hear him share the tale of their love affair beginning at Eisner Camp under a chuppah. I was blessed to have the opportunity to share with all those attending the impact that they and their friends from the Jewish Agency and all the other Israelis have made on our campers and staff members lives during the speech that I was asked to give.
Shabbat morning brought the sounds of prayer and guitars strumming. The most poignant sound was the voices and stories that Heller High students shared with the shlichim about the impact that Israeli staff had had on them and the reasons that they chose to spend 4 months in Israel at Heller High. That was followed by the laughter of our Eisner kids sharing “true” Eisner stories to assist the Israeli’s to fully understand the special place that they will be travelling to and the significant impact that they are capable of making. Once again, Judaism flourishing from one generation to another.
Another day, another sound: voices from across the generations joining together in Havdalah blessings. This happened at a celebration uniting shlichim from as far back as 1981 to those who worked at Eisner as recently as last summer.
photo credit: Or Kaplan
These 150 Israelis know that they were part of something special that not only transformed the lives of their campers but themselves and their friends lives as well. Laughter, tears and memories poured forth. We sang and danced, ate and drank, and shared the power of Jewish camping and Jewish Community. People that worked at camp for as many 10 years and as little as one came from every corner of Israel to connect once again over the mission of strengthening the Jewish people. I was so overwhelmed to see young men and women that I have not seen in 25 years and to see and hear about their families and lives today. We shared family photos and stories, and they were hungry to hear how camp has changed and grown and continued to flourish. They walked away know that they mattered in the life or our shared Jewish history and the lives of our campers and staff. The Reform movement and the Jewish People are stronger because of the commitment that these brave men and women make by coming half way around the world every year to help us in creating “A summer that will last a lifetime” and to ensure that “lifetime” is filled with Jewish memory and experience.
From the commemoration of the sadness Shoah to the starting of the seminar for summer 2018 to weddings and celebrations, Judaism lives and continues to flourish in our people, in our camps and in our communities. I am blessed to not only witness but to be able to be a small part of it. And I can’t wait for the sounds of Summer 2018!