By Melissa Frey, Director of URJ Kutz Camp & Associate Director of NFTY
As a child, one of my favorite holiday songs was sung during Sukkot. “Apples are delicious, they are so nutritious, you don’t have to wash any dishes, sing a Sukkah song!” This complex arrangement was sung (and not very well) for the entirety of the holiday. Hearing it in my mind conjures up memories of picking gourds, harvesting corn stalks, and thanking the local farmer for leaving the corners of his fields so that the teens in our TYG could build a sukkah each year. Sukkot is a joyful holiday celebrating and marking the completion of the fruit harvest (Shavuot marks the end of the grain harvest), and just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to experience a similar sense of profound joy and pride.
It was a pleasure to join the teens and adults from NFTY-Northwest at their Leadership Training Institute, which was held at our very own URJ Camp Kalsman, two weeks ago. While walking the grounds of camp with director David Berkman, we met up with a handful of volunteers from the Everett, WA Food Bank. In the center of the grounds of camp lie expansive gardens. One side is a biblical garden and on the other, rows and rows of fresh produce, bursting out of the ground with vibrant color. There are orchards, and vineyards, and fruits and vegetables and plants growing into the ground and a rainbow of colors peeking out and up towards the mountains in the backdrop. I tried my first lemon cucumber. I pulled a horseradish root from the ground. I debated how I could possibly fly with fresh beets across the country. I felt like I was part of the harvest.
Perhaps what was most remarkable about this experience was meeting and talking with the volunteers from the Everett Food Bank. They come to camp monthly in the non-summer season to harvest the crops for the food bank. On the afternoon I was there, they estimated to have harvested close to 300 pounds of fresh apples, squash, beets, greens, tomatoes, corn, berries, herbs, and more. What is surely a remarkable summer gardening experience for the campers at Kalsman, is a truly extraordinary gift Camp Kalsman is sharing to help support the local community. So as we begin to celebrate this festival holiday, it is my hope that the participants, staff, faculty, congregations, lay leaders and stakeholders of Camp Kalsman know that even outside of the summer months, camp continues to emulate our Jewish values, and rather than simply leaving the corners of her fields, Camp Kalsman is sharing the root of her soul to help affect peoples’ lives year round. For that, as a Movement, we should all feel so proud.