Chaverim and Minhagim

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Shalom from OSRUI! Every year, more than 50 Rabbis, Cantors, and Educators who spend time with us at camp in the summer.  They work closely with the Rashei Eidot (unit heads) to create fun Jewish experiences that are educational and engaging. Today we are joined by Marla Aviva Bentley who reflects on the friends and traditions at camp.

At 6:15 in the morning, with dew on our shoes and the sun streaming through the trees, the chanichim (campers) of Avodahgather in a tight circle and sing to one another: So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you’ll wait for me, hold me like you’ll never let me go.” This timeless melody by John Denver, sung in the friendship circle, brings a tightness to my throat and a burning behind my eyes as I observe the Avodahniks in their closing day ritual. It is emotional watching the fierce love and bond of this group. They sway together, arm in arm, singing and trying not to cry. Today they say l’hitraot to one another, farewell until next summer. It is a moment that deeply resonates with me as I think back to all the friendship circles I have observed over the years on segel (faculty) at OSRUI, and all the way back to when I was a camper, at Jewish overnight camp in Michigan, singing the same stirring tune as I held on tight to my friends. 

The friendship circle on closing day is just one of so many rituals that make camp a special and unique place. From sacred all-camp gatherings like Shabbat Shirah following dinner, where our beloved songleaders lead enthusiastic singing and then the Director or member of segel (faculty) tells a story, to specific eidot (unit) ritual activities like Mesibah and O-Stock. From sharing special talents at Beit-Cafe to rikud (dancing), to twice daily t’filot (services), and naming anything and everything b’ivrit (in Hebrew). Camp time is rich with minhagim (rituals) that bond each of us to the friends we have made, and this special place called machaneh (camp) OSRUI. 

The friendships the chanichim (campers) develop with one another, and relationships of chanichim and tzevet (staff) and segel (faculty), along with our camp minhagim (rituals), foster a sense of belonging and strengthen Jewish identity. Relationships and ritual bond us to one another and to our summer home. It is perhaps why we sing and hold each other close each year, why we smile and cry and hug. As I observed the Avodahniks, I am reminded of how much camp has meant to me in my life. OSRUI is our magical place, a place of caring and compassion, a place of memories and of experiences yet to be. Chaverim(friends) and mihagim (rituals) until next summer: “’Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again, oh babe, I hate to go…”.

Marla Aviva Bentley is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard and a Segel-at-Large this year at camp.