There have been many important Jewish memories in my life and I know that there will be many more. However one of the most memorable will always be the weekend of August 14th to the 16th of 2015. These were my final days of being Olim 2015 or as we said Olim XV. Olim is the oldest unit at the URJ Eisner Camp, the place that my friends and I have called home for the past 7 summers. Olim means “going up” which made sense as our bunks were in the woods at the top of a big hill. But Olim means so much more.
The Olim campers lined the path as we did each week to personally greet every person in camp into the Beit Am for song session. We sang and danced to our Eisner favorites such such as Or Zarua, Ken Y’hi Ratzon, and Al Keyn N’kaveh L’cha with even more enthusiasm than ever before. We headed out to the quad for Israeli dance and suddenly it started downpouring. Everyone was quickly sent to the bunks so that the sound equipment could be disconnected.
However, a lot of rain was not going to stop Olim. While all of the other units were running to their bunks, we stayed and danced to the music of our own voices because we knew the songs so well. The Hebrew and the Israeli culture will always be with us. Though it was officially bedtime, cold and drenched, we embarked on Legacy Night, a time when we officially got to leave our permanent mark on camp and teach and inspire the younger campers and show them what it means to become Olim.
We made plaques and hung them in our Olim Beit Am and smaller plaques that were hung all around camp. We wrote huge inspirational messages in sidewalk chalk along the paths to the outdoor sanctuary so that everyone would see them as they walked to the outdoor sanctuary on Saturday morning. We wrote of what it meant to be part of this Kehillah, our spiritual community, and that we are all Mishpacha, family.
Shabbat morning services took a huge turn when our camp director called us up one by one to receive our alumni card. There was not a dry eye among us, the start of 24 hours of continuous tears. Later that night, as the entire camp sat around the lake at closing ceremonies, our unit heads spoke about the summer. I was asked to represent my unit and light the last torch to float across the lake leading to a torch display reading “Now I Know I’m Home.” It was true. We were home.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not yearn to be back in that really old wooden A frame cabin deep in the woods but I have taken a piece of my summer home with me. A piece of this place that taught us to live Jewishly. Where over the years we were taught the values of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Where we learned about being the one, making a difference, not to bully, not to stand by, to embrace our similarities and our differences, to be inclusive, and help everyone feel safe and welcomed and loved. We spoke out against gun violence. We were taught to be Jewish leaders.
The 120 of us will always be Olim XV.
(This blog was originally presented as a reflection at Lily’s Shabbat Confirmation service at Temple Sinai in Sharon.)