“…And Then the Lights Went Out”

From Rabbi Dantowitz, 8/22/2011

There was lightning and thunder, the skies crackled, the crashing sounds struck overhead and sirens sounded. Soon the campers and staff assembled in  Camp Harlam's Recreation Hall (known as the Beit). Last Thursday night was the culmination of three days of Maccabia (Color War). The red, blue, gold and green teams were now dressed in a sea of neutral colors, mostly white, as this evening was the Zimriya (song festival). After presenting plaques, each team would sing an Israeli song, fight song and alma mater. Scores would be tallied. A funny skit would announce results and the camp community would unite as one with evening prayers (Shm’a and Hashkivenu) in song.

The crashing sounds outside continued through the second team’s Israeli song and before they finished, the lights went out. Amazingly, the blue team continued singing with even greater ruach  (spirit). Shortly afterwards, the camp director spoke. He emphasized that we were all safe and just experiencing a thunderstorm. We would continue as a kehila kedosha (sacred community) with this special event. Flashlights and cell phones were utilized to light the lyrics as each team continued singing. I, serving as a visiting faculty member for 2 weeks, continued, with others, judging the event.

At the conclusion of the songs, while the judges tabulated scores, Camp Harlam’s director, Aaron Selkow, advised supervisors how to proceed if power remained out. As he was explaining what to do next, a Maccabia “miracle” occurred and the lights came back on causing loud cheers to erupt from everyone. In addition to a sense of relief to have lights, there was a sense of awe for what we had experienced. In near total darkness, the camp community continued with a beautiful tradition, listening, respecting one another and singing with love and ruach.

I am proud to be a part of this sacred community, Camp Harlam. I’ve witnessed amazing “Jewish teachable moments” during my nine summers on faculty in addition to recalling inspiring ones from my years as a camper and staff member there.

At a Jewish camp, there is no separation of Jewish time and other time. Meals are punctuated with blessings (and believe me, they are sung with lots of energy). Jewish learning occurs in structured and unstructured moments. A walk in the woods is an opportunity to notice the wonder of God’s creations (and hear a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel for example). Exploring the camp garden is a time to contemplate what it means to be shomrei adama, guardians of the earth. Leading a unit service allows campers and staff to offer their own interpretations of a prayer. Leading Shabbat services provides an opportunity for post-B’nei Mitzvah students to accept the challenge and honor of learning a new aliyah and read Torah for the community. I was honored to coordinate a Shabbat service focused on Israel last Friday evening. It became a more powerful experience than anticipated as we lifted our voices even higher in prayers for peace. One Israeli staff member lives near the Gaza strip and one Israeli camper is from Eilat.

Last evening was our first night at home and Daniel, my 9 year old, was exhausted. Though he barely had enough energy to crawl into bed, he requested siyum l’yom, evening ritual from camp. Our family custom is to recite Sh’ma at bedtime, and so it was a special pleasure to recite it with the melodies he loved at camp.

There was thunder and lightning last night as well.  The lights did not go out but the spirit of God and the connection to the sacred camp community was felt by all of us as we sang sweet prayers to sleep.

photo- Faith Joy Smith (aka Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz) in top center                                         photo- Daniel, Rabbi Faith Joy & Benjamin Dantowitz at Camp Harlam