On a sunny afternoon in 1999, my unit took a walk up the road out of camp. There was a farmer who lived near camp that operated a roadside fruit stand, and he had set up a small arrangement with camp where bunks would, as a small treat, be allowed to shop there one day a summer. The Stand had fruits and vegetables, candy and soda, but we smart campers would pool our money for the real prize: the pies. Fresh, homemade and delicious, I can still almost taste those pies now.
So you can imagine our dismay when we arrived at the fruit stand to find no one manning it. The shop was open, the merchandise was out, but no shopkeeper was there to regulate the purchasing of goods. Our counselors came to the quick conclusion that we could not buy anything. After some begging and pleading, they quickly huddled and came up with a solution: we would all pool our money and leave it in an envelope in exchange for all of the pies. This was a happy compromise, and we quickly emptied our pockets. We then realized that without the friendly shopkeeper, we had no forks or plates with which to eat.
And so it came to be on that sunny afternoon that we sat on the grass next to the fruit stand, listening to the wind in the trees, watching the cars pass by, and eating pie out of the tins with our bare hands.
This month’s URJ communications theme is Philanthropy/Fundraising, a concept that I have struggled with throughout my life. I remember clearly asking my mom as a young boy “But what are we BUYING?” as she sat at the kitchen table and wrote checks to various causes. Now, as an adult, I survey the vast scope of important things that deserve my time and attention and feel helpless, useless. I am just one person, with limited time, energy, and resources. How can I hope to make a difference?
In the midst of that deep well of impotence, I think about that glorious afternoon 12 years ago. Over the course of my 16 summers at summer camp, I have seen countless color wars, fight songs, surprise dance parties, and other gigantic events, but nothing stands out to me nearly as clearly as that afternoon, eating pie with my friends with our bare hands. Of course large donations, large contributions, large amounts of energy were needed to build the dining hall, to create the programming for the summer, to get me to camp. But on that day, that perfect day, all I needed was 10 dollars and two 18 year old counselors that had a passion for giving me the summer I deserved.
The world is a very big, very daunting place, full of problems with gaping mouths that continuously demand more. In this month where we consider what it means to donate of yourself to something that matters to you, I think it’s important to remember that occasionally, all you need is passion, energy, and pie.
Eli Cohn-Wein is the NFTY/Kutz Program Associate. You can contact him here.