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July 23, 2014 | 25th Tamuz 5774

Remarks by Rabbi Dan Freelander, senior vice president, at Eisner Camp 50th anniversary celebration July 26, 2008

I bring you greetings from my former counselor, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who is on Sabbatical this summer. In 1967 he began supervising me: pulling weeds in the Formal Gardens, harvesting corn on the hill behind the dining room, sliding down to the bath house from my bunk on “cardiac hill” in the rain; such sweet memories.

Over 40 years ago, my parents and my congregation led me to the Joseph Eisner Camp Institute for Living Judaism in the bosom of the Berkshires. I thought they were sending me to an asylum for crazy Jews. And while that may have been partially true, my life has never been the same since that special summer.

In the 1970s I returned to this place. I came to make music. Jeff Klepper and I were writing songs, and Jeff said there was no better place to experiment with the “new sound” of Jewish music in the early ‘70s than Eisner. So we stayed up late above the Tzofim unit office, and wrote: Modeh Ani, Lo Alecha, VeYashvu Ish, Shalom Rav. Every day we would try out a new song at lunch song session. If the Eisner campers were responsive, we kept the song. If it bombed, we went back to the drawing board. In this way Eisner shaped the face of Reform Jewish music three decades ago.

Robert Pulgam claimed that everything one ever needed to learn was learned in kindergarten. I need to amend that. Almost everything I ever needed to learn was learned as a staff member at Eisner.

We learned to how to organize ourselves and others. Eisner trained us to create complicated events that looked “simple” to the participants. Witness this remarkable weekend, and Louis Bordman’s incredible staff. They carry on a tradition of excellence that has always marked this place.

We learned to appreciate God’s creation. One cannot spend more than a minute at this magnificent site without being swallowed by the grandeur of the Berkshires. I found God in the hills and trees, in the sunsets and foggy mornings. Everywhere I looked I saw God’s handiwork, and felt privileged to be embraced by it.

We learned to care for others. As campers and counselors we learned to tolerate each other’s quirks and even come to appreciate them. The lifelong relationships created here continue to bless all our lives. Here we made our best friends – for life. They know us at our best and our worst. It is a gift to be with them this weekend.

We learned to be parents. As counselors, we learned to lovingly guide and protect our campers. We learned to be role models, true to ourselves, and responsible for others. That is why we feel so comfortable trusting our own children to the Eisner staff. We know that they will care for our children in the same responsible and loving manner we were taught to do so many years ago.

And we learned to be Jews, comfortable in our own Jewish skin. We learned to make Judaism our own – not our parents, not our rabbis. Every generation of Eisner campers and staff re-invents the living of Judaism for themselves.

Eisner is one of 12 camps in the Union camping system. This summer over 10,000 campers and staff will benefit from the same intense, positive Jewish experience we did as campers. And the graduates of our camps have changed our Movement. You could say the inmates are running the asylum.

Without Eisner and its sister camps, the Reform Movement would not be the movement of the Jewish future. We create the Jewish future here every day, in every activity, in every song session, in every act of kindness.

This Shabbat has been remarkable full of memories and friends – memories that have blessed us for 50 years. On behalf of the Union and its 900 congregations, we thank you for being here, and for helping to create new Jewish memories for a glorious Jewish future.


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