By Rabbi Mark Covitz
Director, URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute.
Each April, Mark goes to Israel with other URJ Directors to meet our Israeli staff members and to prepare them for their upcoming adventures in URJ camps.
Early morning, perhaps too early, everybody has risen and is meeting outside at our central location to say “Good Morning.” A couple of goofy, get-your-body-moving songs later, and we are off to breakfast. The day is filled with laughter, learning, and making new friends. Day-by-day the community grows closer; and together we anticipate the joy of our upcoming Shabbat celebration … tefillot, dinner, singing, and dancing.
Camp has begun. Yes, school is still in session. Yes, the grounds of Goldman Union Camp are empty. And yes, the way things have been going, who knows if we might not still get some more snow. But, without a doubt, camp has begun. It began in mid-April when Camp Directors and Assistant Directors from around the URJ travelled to Israel to join our counterparts from Ramah Camps and Young Judea Camps at Kibbutz Shefayim to meet this summer’s Israeli staff members.
While some of these young Israelis are returning to their camps for the second or third time, for most, a week at Shefayim is their first ever camp experience. And yet, the level of excitement, the personal engagement, and the expressions of compassion and creativity, are all such that it would be difficult to say that camp has not begun.
I believe that the exceptional experience enjoyed by the GUCI team is a wonderful precursor to what should be another outstanding summer. I got to spend a lot of time getting to know our shilichim. Ayelet Meshulam, a professional artist who works in Israel’s television and movie make-up industry, will be our Art Specialist. She brings to GUCI an expertise in many areas of art, and a creativity that will make us very proud of our program. Talia Zuberi and Daniel Heffels, cabin counselors, seem to already understand exactly what GUCI is all about; both exhibit an intelligence and humor that will fit right in here in Zionsville.
Working in a group with Directors and Shilichim from URJ Jacobs Camp, URJ Camp Kalsman, and URJ Six-Points Sports Academy, and led by Ori Luzia, a former 2-time shaliach at GUCI, we spent several days discussing what it means to be at a URJ camp, what is the role of the shilichim, what can they expect from American children, what culture differences must be bridged, and much more. We shared camp rituals (our shilichim are big fans of the Jellyfish song). And we celebrated Shabbat together, joined by Ori, Reut Efroni, our shlicha from last summer, and several of this summer’s staff members who are currently studying at HUC in Jerusalem (Chase Foster, Sam Pollack, Elana Nemitoff, and Emily Langowitz).
Perhaps the most gratifying part of the week for me was seeing how easily Daniel, Talia, and Ayelet fit in with our other staff members. On more than one occasion, we remained in our classroom long after a session had ended, talking, sharing, getting to know each other, laughing hysterically, and starting to form a community. Clearly, camp has begun.