By Cara Greenstein
Cara, a Jacobs lifer, is the Head Songleader and Marketing Intern this summer. She just finished her sophomore year at the University of Texas, where she studies public relations. Cara is the daughter of Rabbi Micah and Sheril Greenstein of Memphis, TN.
A miracle happened in Utica, Mississippi on July 4th. The weather gave way to the Jewish community. The rain suddenly stopped, and the skies cleared just moments before Dan Nichols took the stage. The Jewish performer’s concert was so rich and beautiful, it was a day the 425 campers and staff from across the South will never forget.
What made the experience even more remarkable was the array of Jewish children from across the religious spectrum, swaying arm-in-arm and singing “Kehillah Kedosha” (“Sacred Community”) together at the top of their lungs.
Michael Danziger, Rosh T’fillah of Henry S. Jacobs Camp, said it well. “American history was made on July 4, 1776, but American Jewish history was made on July 4, 2012 with Reform Jacobs Camp and Orthodox Camp Darom spending the holiday together as a model of unity for others to emulate.”
Thanks to the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Jewish campers from across the Deep South came together at Henry S. Jacobs Camp for the very first time.
The URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp is the Reform Movement’s summer camp that has served the Deep South at its permanent site in Utica, MS, since 1970. Camp Darom, the first and only overnight camp under Orthodox auspices in the entire South, has been serving families in assorted locations since 1976; they are currently based in Grenada, MS.
Camp Darom arrived in the early afternoon for a jam-packed day of sports, recreation and traditional American activities. The Americafest parade, led by Dan Nichols, welcomed everyone to the outdoor carnival, complete with a 60-ft. inflatable obstacle course and inter-camp basketball game.
“If you were an outside observer, you would not have been able to tell who was a Jacobs camper and who was a Darom camper,” said Jacobs Camp Director, Jonathan “J.C.” Cohen. “During the [inter-camp] basketball game, we each wore our team jerseys—they were in white, we were in blue. And, occasionally, you could catch a glimpse of a kippah or a tzitzit. But, beyond those glimpses, they all looked the same—like kids having a great time at camp.”
The entire community reconvened for a festive dinner in the dining hall, which soon turned into a dance hall as campers and counselors from Jacobs and Darom reveled in patriotic melodies, from John Denver’s “Country Roads” to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.”
“I think the kids really enjoyed it. They loved the basketball game, they loved the parade, they loved the fireworks,” said Rabbi Avichai Pepper, Director of Camp Darom.
“This was the coolest thing Camp Darom has ever done, and maybe the highlight of this summer.”
The feature of the Americafest experience was the much-anticipated Dan Nichols performance. Jacobs songleader and Memphis-native Cara Greenstein sang with Dan, while fellow Jacobs staff member Charlie Cox of Mandeville, Louisiana, played percussion for the electrifying concert.
The crowd was one—every camper sang with ruach and created a new community almost instantly.
“It’s a lesson,” said Doug Passon, filmmaker for Dan Nichols’ documentary, Road to Eden. “It’s something everyone should learn from and follow and do.”
Dan Nichols expressed similar thoughts after witnessing the unity of the evening.
“It’s very brave to do this—long overdue—and it displays exceptional vision and leadership between both communities to design, commit and do this,” said Nichols. “It’s one thing to talk about it, and it’s another thing to walk a path; and both communities walked a path to each other. I’ve never experienced anything like that before at camp.”
Fireworks illuminated the Mississippi night, framing the stage for Nichols’ final set. The crowd hushed as campers gazed at the sky in awe.
“We are taught to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might,” said Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel in Memphis. “Last night was a soulful expression of the heart across all religious lines, and it proved that it’s not that hard to create a miracle for Reform and Orthodox Jews to come together.”