They’re at it again. Here at Crane Lake Camp, those Jewish values are showing through. I was moved. I was so proud. I didn’t even realize until after it was all over why I was smiling so much.
Mini-Maccabia, otherwise known as Color War. 4 teams. The “shtick” this year is “Crane Lake at Hogwarts,” in honor of the movie of course. Because we’re using Harry Potter as a regular theme in teaching, I just happened to have some great costumes with me. (Sorry for the strange size photo — I cropped my kids out.)
Almost everyone on camp is involved. Senior Staff and Faculty are always the Judges, this year being called “Professors.” I think I make a pretty credible witch — I was claiming to be Professor McGonagall, though in reality we look nothing alike. (Someone did say I looked a lot like Professor Sprout, which I took as a compliment.) I put on the persona, and the accent to the extent that I was able, beginning at morning T’filah (prayers). Though I ditched the hat for services. I just can’t do pagan-plus-Jewish. Wicca is its own religion and although witches’ hats may be irrelevant to it, mixing the two doesn’t work for me.
Spent the morning judging swimming races in the pool and then helping out with wacky counselor races on the soccer field. Lunch. Much-needed rest hour — it is HOT out there today, and I’m not used to spending all day in the sun. In polyester velvet.
No costume after lunch (though I intend to put it back on this evening for the final Tug-of-War and House Cup award ceremony). Judged swimming and boating races in the lake (not that they needed much help, the Lake staff is really on top of things) and then took a seat in front of the Beit Am (the big meeting hall) to simply be a presence on camp as campers raced about for the great “Horcrux Hunt” later in the afternoon.
And this is what went straight to my heart. Here’s the rules. It’s basically a treasure hunt kind of thing, where you get a clue, figure out what spot in camp it’s pointing to, go there and retrieve the next clue, etc. Each clue is retrieved by a group of 10 runners, including every unit from Nitzanim (entering 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades) through Olim (entering 10th) plus a Machonik (CIT) and two counselors. The group runs to the spot, finds the hidden clue, and runs back. The clue cannot be opened until every single runner from that group is back.
Now, it is obviously in everybody’s interest to help the slowest campers get back. So this is good strategy too. But I saw, over and over again, big people helping little people make the run. It wasn’t just the really obvious times, like when staff members carried campers piggyback. It was more subtle.
It was the young men who, although they were fleet of foot and often the first runners leading the way to find the clue, lagged behind the very last young and slow runner on the way back, encouraging them and making sure they made it. Truth is, they wouldn’t have been able to open the clue anyway until that last runner returned. But they didn’t have to stay back.
It was the numerous counselors who ran holding someone’s hand, encouraging them and supporting them every step of the way. I think I might even have seen a big brother holding his little sister’s hand, since siblings are always put on the same team (much as at Hogwarts, where they are in the same house).
It was the fast runners who ran past a slow runner and then turned to call to them, to encourage them, and in one or two cases to return and run beside them the last little bit. Once, at least, to help pick up a fallen young runner.
I sat there and kvelled. I was so so full of delight, seeing this happen over and over, on every team, multiple times.
And finally the old memory surfaced. I was here for Color War 5 years ago. (The theme was “National Treasure,” a movie I have seen since, though it meant nothing to me at the time.)
And I remember. I remember without a doubt, because this is what I had expected to see: I remember that the fastest runners simply ran fastest. They sprinted out — which everybody today did too, because as soon as the first runner made it to the designated spot, he or she could start searching — and then they sprinted back, envelope in hand, vying to be the first to return. And the stragglers … straggled.
Crane Lake has always valued sportsmanship, from way back before the URJ bought it and turned it into a Reform Movement summer camp. I know this because of the cheers that teams do and did, call and response, wishing each other good luck, even teams they’re competing against. It was a prime value for Herb May, who was the only camp director that I knew here before this summer. I was pretty impressed by it, back then.
And that’s actually why I remember. Because during Color War, all bets were off. Competition was intense and winning was the name of the game. And I do remember those fleet-footed young men, flying past the younger and slower runners, in their race to return first. It stood out. I didn’t like it.
And it’s gone. Today, that’s just not what they did. While some of the fast runners were flying ahead, others stayed behind. In most groups, one or two people were looking out for the younger and slower-moving members of the community. It was beautiful. I’m sure there’s a Jewish value word that I’m forgetting which would describe it just right.
Oh, yeah, right. קהילה קדשה. Kehillah k’doshah. A holy community, where every person really is recognized and respected as being בצלם אלהים b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God. That’s what I saw in action today. יישר כח, Crane Lake. Yasher koach! Well done!