Last Tuesday was a sad day. I officiated at the funeral of a 48-year old man. He was the father of one of my son Gadi’s Camp Harlam friends. Despite his young age, the man’s death was not unexpected; he’d been diagnosed with cancer four years ago.
The funeral was remarkable in many ways. This man was much beloved by people from every facet of his life, including some from when he himself was a counselor at Camp Harlam. This man possessed a larger than life personality, and he warmly embraced many people, making them feel good about themselves and about the world.
I shared a line at the funeral that comes from the special service we use for our memorial service at the cemetery on the Sunday between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. It encourages us to measure, not the years in our lives, but the life in our years. Indeed, in the words of his mother, this man packed 20 lifetimes into 48 years.
As a rabbi and someone who has been a part of the Camp Harlam community for many years, on that day I saw my son and his friends as a microcosm of so many aspects of Camp Harlam. Even though the funeral took the kids away from camp less than 24 hours before opening day, the camp’s administrators knew they needed to be there, and they were excused from camp for the entire day.
I watched this group. I saw them cry openly and unashamedly. I saw them embrace their friend, and his mom, whom some of them barely knew. I saw the girls from this circle of friends comforting the boys—and the boys accepting the comfort that was offered. I saw self-confident and Jewishly knowledgeable young men and women. No one had to tell them what to do or how to do it. Kaddish came as second nature to their lips and, as our tradition teaches, they placed shovels full of earth into the grave.
Our tradition also teaches us that wherever we are, we try to create a kehilla kedosha—a holy community. The actions of these young people reminded me, once again, that Camp Harlam—and each of the URJ’s camps—is just such a community. My family and I have been blessed to be a part of this holy community, and, if you haven’t already, I urge you to make a URJ camp experience a reality for your children as well.
Rabbi Jack Paskoff serves Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, PA.