Occupation: Herzl Camp Rosh Shirah
1 p.m. – I’ve just showered for the first time in two days. The weather has been pretty miserable all morning, not quite storming but very much wet, grey, and cloudy. It feels nice to be clean, but as I was showering, the thunder boomed very loudly. Part of me (okay, a large part of me) hopes for a good amount of rain. The weather slows everything down, which is really nice in a place that moves at the speed of light. At the same time, it feels like trying to stop a moving train. The inertia hurts.
1:15 – Minucha, our post-lunch rest time, has just been extended to let the rain pass us by. I think no one is complaining.
3:15 – If I remember right, it was at this point I woke up from a nap and headed over to the Chadar, the building with our main office and dining hall. The Ozrim, our staff in training, have been spending the past few hours since lunch preparing for Shabbat, which for eight of them means running through the songs they are singing for song session later tonight.
I struggle to set up the Chadar, as we’ve just put a lock on our soundboard and I don’t have a key. This is the functional disorganization of camp: of course, the person who needs the soundboard for their job doesn’t have a key to the lock on it. Eventually, I find the staff member that does, riding around on a golf cart while frowning to myself. At this point, most of the Ozrim have left to shower and get ready for Shabbat, so I quickly set up microphones and make sure the basement is set up for services.
5:10 – Shabbat caravan was supposed to start now, but instead we’re delayed for a good 15 minutes while the Ozrim take pictures, cabins get ready to join caravan, and we all shuffle to welcome in the Shabbos Queen (side note: this is the only time I’m okay with Ashkenazi pronunciation).
5:25 – Aaaaaaaaand we’re off! Walking around the entire path of camp, I relax. Because Caravan is such an automatic activity for me, I don’t think about the chords I’m playing and songs I’m singing. Instead, I love looking at all the cabins, all the campers, and all the staff as they have the same excited look in their eye, smiling and ready to enter Shabbat. Sometimes I get very frustrated in this job, balancing egos and wants and plans and chaos.
But every week, this makes it worth it. This is pure, unadulterated, cultish camp. Where everyone is happy to march around in a long line dressed in white. We are all just having a great time, doing what we do.
5:50 – Shabbat flag! With flag songs and lots of tears from the older campers, we yell our way through flag. The microphone system is missing from the flag circle, but hey, we make do. I feel some anxiety melt away. Prep for Shabbat always feels like forever, but once the wheels are rolling, things are automatic. I know what the schedule is, what my job is, and I’ve been doing it long enough that I don’t really have to think about it.
But I’m still a bit worried. Song session has never stopped stressing me out, even after doing it all these summers. Oh, also there was basically no prep with the Ozrim that are leading services tonight. That’s okay, I guess.
Flag is over, we bless our children, take some time to ourselves (the older campers all have sunglasses on but it’s very, very clear they are bawling sad sad tears), and then walk over to the Chadar basement for services. I get down there before everyone else to make sure the microphones are set up and guitars are plugged in.
6:20 – Services! Services are always a bit of a mess with over 700 collective people who may or may not believe in God, get something out of prayer, or have the attention span to read Hebrew and not talk with their friends. But it goes okay. I feel that same level of automatic-ness that allows me to somewhat relax, as I stand behind the Ozrim and try to guide them through the prayers.
It’s an unfortunate irony that the day of rest is one of my biggest work days. Often I wish I could actually take the time to pray, but there isn’t much use. It’s hard to disconnect from the fact that services need to be organized, and that I need to be prepared for each song as it comes up while egging the Ozrim on too.
But I’m having fun, and work is nice, and the Ozrim are also enjoying their last Shabbat. That’s good.
7:20 – Services are over, camp director Drea Lear has finished telling the Shabbat story, and the staff is upstairs in the Chadar sitting at tables and waiting as campers begin to flow in. Shabbat meals are a very hectic time, as all of camp sits together and we need to make sure that everyone has a place to sit.
We always have room, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of shushing until we begin the blessings. Once over, I rush to the office to finish some last minute printing that I need for song session after dinner.
The Ozrim are asking me questions about when to head downstairs for a final rehearsal. Didn’t I tell them to go down when the second course of chicken and potatoes comes out? Did I forget to tell them, or does no one listen in this place?
Most likely a combination of the two. I sigh. Things will be just fine.
8:30 – Dinner is over, I’ve managed to swallow some food, and I’m done rehearsing with the Ozrim and setting up for song session. Time to turn on our projector so that everyone can sing along to the lyrics.
The lights are dim, and I sit down on the elevated stage at the front of the Chadar. Then I use my favorite method of getting everyone in the Chadar to quiet down, which involves a lot of sitting and sort of having an amused look on my face, as I just look at people. Then I lean into the microphone and just say “You can do it.” Or “a little bit more.” “We’re almost there.”
Everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about as they shush each other and quiet down. Sometimes I’ll start singing Don’t Worry, Be Happy to get everyone’s attention, instead of saying something serious and silly like “quiet down!” or getting angry.
I’m allowed some fun, right? I know it’s weird, but hey, it works. The Chadar reaches that beautiful minimum level of quiet, and we start. The setlist is below, but whats missing is the nigun we use to start every song session. It’s a nice nigun that everyone sings, which opens the door to the real vibe of song session.
- Fire and Rain
- Cats in the Cradle
- Weeping Crowds
- House at Pooh Corner
- Boi/One Tin Soldier
- Rivers and Roads
- Erev Shel/Eili Eili
- Your Song
- Al Kol Eileh
- Circle Game
- Tfilat Haderech
Song session is great. The Ozo guests do a fantastic job, and everyone is singing. The only thing that makes them sing less are the tears and sadness that many campers and staff feel over the end of camp. I extend song session with a few randomly chosen songs so we can let another round of rain pass by, and then we let everyone in the Chadar go.
Kadimah, our campers going into 9th grade, and B’yachad, our campers going into 10th grade, stay after to hug each other, and their staff, and each other again, and cry all over, and it turns into a picturesque mess of tissues decorating half of the Chadar tables.
I feel sad too. The B’yachad age group were my campers back in my first year on staff. I’ve always regretted focusing so much on the music job that I didn’t get a chance to be their staff member year after year. But still those connections remain, and new camper connections were made, and I’m sad to see them go.
And excited. This age group will make good Ozrim and staff. I’m confident of that.
10:00 – the Chadar is quiet, and the night is over. “That’s it,” I think to myself. It’s officially that last stretch of camp, where everything wraps up and ends. But still, tomorrow I help lead services in the morning, and then I get to spend time at the Ruski Couch Shabbat rotation. As always, things to look forward to.
It’s been a good summer for camp.
Author’s note: Herzl is fueled by sleeplessness and dehydration, particularly for the staff, as we form the controlled chaos of our beloved camp into a time the campers will never forget…while many of us suffer from memory loss and delusions associated with – you guessed it – being sleep deprived and dehydrated. Also, we are an hour behind Central Standard time, in a time zone we like to call Herzl Standard Time. So a diary written from memory in this place is not the most accurate thing on Earth. But it’s close.