Lots of moments of camp magic and spontaneity are, in fact, carefully planned by the talented staff – impromptu dance parties, elaborate field trips, inspiring educational programs, silly “Yom” days, and so on. In fact, in the time that I’ve spent at OSRUI this summer, I’ve been blown away by the planning and care that the tzevet (staff) put into creating memorable moments for their chanichim (campers). Once in a while, however, something happens where the stars align, and a magical camp moment occurs, truly spontaneously.
Such was the case the evening when Kibbutz HaTzofim returned from a day in the sun at the waterpark. The chanichim and the madrichim (counselors) were exhausted upon returning to camp. After trekking back “downstairs” to Kibbutz HaTzofim after enjoying dinner, and much-needed showers “upstairs,” Emily, the Rosh Eidah (unit head), asked me to lead t’fillot (a brief prayer service) before the chanichim would turn in for the night. As the sun had just set, and the twilight sky was painted with beautiful deep blues, the chanichim filed into Tzofim’s Beit T’fillah (chapel), one by one. By the time that Benji, the amazingly talented, energetic, and kind songleader, finished playing the opening song, twilight turned to night, and there we were in the dark Beit T’fillah, sitting together in darkness. The darkness, however, didn’t stop us from praying the evening prayers.
Sensing the mood, Benji chose melodies for the prayers that were slow in pace, without intricate hand motions and clapping patterns, but rather melodies for the prayers that highlighted all of the voices of the chanichim and madrichim. By the time that I covered my eyes to sing the words of the Shema, I noticed a tear rolling down my face. I was brought to tears because the sound of the children’s voices, singing these prayers in unison was the most beautiful sound that I could have ever imagined. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a rabbi, so therefore, it’s not so surprising that I would be moved by a prayer experience like this. What did surprise me, however, was the feedback that I received, later that evening, and the next day. First from the madrichim during their evening meeting, and then from some chanichim at aruchat boker (breakfast):
“I was really in the zone during that service,” one madrich commented.
“That service was magical, and put me into such a good mood,” another madricha chimed in.
“I normally don’t consider myself to be a spiritual person, but in that service, I felt really connected to the community and to God,” yet another madricha shared.
“That was my favorite service, all summer long!” a 5th grade chanicha declared.
“I loved hearing everyone’s voices along with the sounds of the teva (nature) at night, I could hear better because I couldn’t see as well,” a 6th grade chanich told me.
I believe that a moment such as this one, even though it lasted no longer than ten minutes, can only happen at a camp like OSRUI. A camp where a day of fun in the sun is sandwiched in between a short morning and evening service, ensuring that the chanichim and madrichim know so many of the prayers by heart that it doesn’t matter whether or not we end up praying the dark. A camp where such deep community is formed that everyone in the eidah (unit) can let go, and sing with their hearts and souls. A camp where awe-inspiring spontaneous holy moments are part and parcel of the summer experience for everyone involved.
Rabbi Rachel Kaplan Marks is the assistant rabbi at Congregation Shalom in Milwaukee, WI. This summer, Rabbi Marks serves on Tzofim segel, the eidah she grew up in as a camper, counselor, unit head, and now faculty