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Monday, October 13, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part VII

Since I can't share most of my camp photos, I figured at least this one I may as well put up...
That's the Chai Lifeline/Camp Simcha logo. In watermelon.

The Camp Simcha/Special kitchen staff does not only prepare fresh, yummy, nutritious food for the whole camp -- they also go out of their way to dream up any little touch that they think might make a kid smile... and whet their appetite!
This job goes beyond simple sustenance. Many of the campers are underweight or need constant nourishment to keep their struggling bodies going. However, their appetites are iffy due to various conditions or medications. As you've probably read in Miracle Ride, chemo can give people crazy cravings ... and some kids just miss their mommy's food. (In one episode, camp staff called a camper's mom in Israel for her daughter's favorite recipe...)

Whatever the situation, the Camp Simcha kitchen has it covered. Parents can rest assured at home, knowing that their child won't have any problem getting his or her dietary needs met.

Help keep the kitchen stocked!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part VI

Natasha comfortably slid onto the stool beside the pottery wheel. It was her fifth year in Camp Simcha, and she already knew the ropes. A workshop head joined her and began to offer her some ideas .
"Would you like to make a vase? A bowl?" She showed her some of the beautiful pieces that other campers had finished.
But Natasha already knew what she wanted.
"Candles," she said. "I will make candles for Shabbat."
So the "pot heads" helped her craft a perfect pair of ceramic candlesticks, possibly a first for them, too. And Natasha took them home, carefully wrapped, so that she could continue to light Shabbos candles as she'd done in camp.
Camp Simcha is not a kiruv camp. Kids from irreligious backgrounds are allowed to be themselves, no one tries to push yiddishkeit on anyone there. Nevertheless, being surrounded by so many mitzvos and so much ahavas Yisrael creates an indelible impression upon everyone who is privileged to walk the grounds. Sometimes it is more immediately visible, other times the impact is more subtle. It is there. For some, it's their only connection to practicing Jews.
Natasha did not have any religious education. She barely even spoke English. But she felt her counselors' love and caring so deeply that she wanted to become more like them. Realizing that all of her adored staff members wore skirts, she bought some extra skirts to bring to camp. Eventually she started wearing them more during the year as well. At meals, she asked her counselor to wash and say the blessing with her. And of course, every Shabbos she lit the candles.
She's not alone. Over my years on staff, I've seen many Jewish sparks aroused -- not through sermons or missionizing, but through fun, friendship, and caring. Ellaine made herself a siddur cover in leather shop, and found a transliterated siddur in the camp shul to grace with it. (Now she's called Elana -- in camp, at least). A teen who may, at home, be considered "on the fringe" herself leads a group of unaffiliated bunkmates in the bracha on the Shabbos candles. Girls in shorts and sleeveless tops walk through the campgrounds singing "Everybody wants Moshiach..." Sophie wished me a "Happy Rosh Hashana," though she probably never celebrated it herself. After participating in Menucha's bat mitzvah party in camp, Jenny decided she wanted a bat mitzva, too (and made herself a tallit for the occasion in arts 'n' crafts!)...
And Katie learned quickly that while no one had heard of her hometown, she could put herself on the "Jewish Geography" map by saying she lives "near Lakewood." ;-)

Please help support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Last year

Just re-linking to last year's Yom Kipur post, because I like it and don't want it to get lost in the retired blog.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part V

The sun had just set over the placcid lake [pictured above -- click to enlarge] on the last night of camp. Everyone sat around the main lawn, huddled together against the August chill, waiting for the evening's program to begin. Lori caught my eye and mouthed something. I knew what to do

On three, both of us, equally un-musical, belted out an opening line. By the time we finished, the singing spirit had spread across the crowd and a powerful voice filled the air as fireworks sparkled overhead.

Simcha magic, feel it in the air
Can't explain it, just know that it's there
Simcha magic, what a feeling,
it's hard to believe
I'm gonna take it home with me!

It wasn't until mid-winter that I discovered how powerful that moment had been. For both me and Lori, it was one of those long and lonely years, full of the kind of transitions that pull you away from familiarity and into uncharted places. But some nights, lying awake in bed on the other side of the country, Lori would think back to that magical moment in Camp Simcha. She would feel the power of being the one to set the tone (not her natural type) and the warmth of all those voices backing her up. At those times she knew that she had the power within her to stand up to all that life was throwing her way. She knew that wherever she was and whatever was going on, she had a whole family who would always be there, somewhere, for her.

14-year-old Lori couldn't articulate those feelings quite so simply. But I am pretty sure I understood exactly how she felt, because that moment did the same thing for me.

Please support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

L'chaim -- To Life!

I want to share with you what is still my favorite piece of Yomim Nora'im perspective, no matter how many times I hear it. I don't even know what source to cite here, because I've heard this so many ways, but it is perfect every time.

We've all asked HaShem for life many times over the past week, and we will continue to do so until the books go back on the shelf on Hoshana Rabah. You know, the books -- in which the righteous are immediately inscribed for life, the evil go straight to death, and the rest, well, the rest wait and see.
At least, that's what they told you in grade school. But did you really buy it? People die during the Ten Days. Regular people. OK, maybe they weren't perfect, but... evil? So evil as to be inscribed for immediate death? And we know, too, that evil people have lived through multiple Yom Kippurs. Hitler, for example, lasted long enough.
So what is one to think, as you stand in shul and offer possibly your most heartfelt prayers: "G-d, I'm too young to die!"

What is life?
If life is a combination of biochemical processes, then indeed we have a conflict here between Hebrew-school legend and observable fact.
Perhaps life for a bacterium is a mere set of biochemical processes. However, Life for a Jew is so much more. Life is your neshama growing. Life is moving closer to HaShem.
And Life doesn't end when the body stops, either. Chazal say, "The righteous, even after they die, are considered alive. And the evil, even during their lifetime, are considered dead." Because life without spirituality is not Life. And a spiritual life never ends. The soul never dies.

Not only does this translation resolve the apparent conflict, it also takes much of the guesswork out of the judgement process. For who besides you can decide whether you will live in spirituality? It's not so much a matter of "Please don't kill me, G-d!" as "Sign me up for Life!" You can decide where you want to go. The Days of Awe aren't a time for you to be picked up like a piece of junk and tossed onto one pile or the other -- "keep or toss." They're a time of clarity, for you to remember what your options are and re-commit to Life. A time for you to come back, realize which of your past actions were veering off track, and to set yourself straight again.

Teshuva? Of course I regret those actions which took me further from Life!
Chatasi -- I erred. Like an arrow that misses its mark -- I meant well but went off-target.
I stumbled. I was on the right path but something got in my way that I hadn't anticipated. I'll be more careful now.
I went astray. I thought I could take a shortcut, or a scenic route, and still get to Life. Now I realize that it's been right here for me all along.

G-d, sign me up for Life! Because life without You is not Life at all.