As I begin to write this Tzofim is about fifty feet away finishing up Siyum for the night. The sun has receded behind the trees but it’s still light and there’s just the slightest tinge of red at the skyline. It strikes me that this is my twelfth summer at a URJ camp and something about that feels significant. I grew up as a camper attending Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Indiana, and in my eight summers there I developed a deep connection to the camp ethos and community. My family moved around a bit while I was a kid, and not always to the most Jewish of locales, so camp became my primary connection to Judaism. It was also there that I first began to fall in love with music, which I now pursue as a career. The first song I ever learned on guitar was taught to me by my counselor (Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down”). Even though I don’t remember that counselor’s name–to whom I am forever grateful–I can still recall that feeling of sitting in the cabin with his guitar, experiencing the delight of getting the chords under my fingers for the first time.
Having been around since the fifties, the culture at GUCI is rich and old like a big willow tree. The vibration is different here at Kalsman, it’s beautiful and fascinating. The routines are similar: chuggim, shabbat, maccabiah, talent show, etc. But there’s an intangible freshness and newness to this place. It’s a camp that has a blossoming identity and I’m honored to be a part of it. I first came here to work in 2014 as a bunk counselor, returning again the next year as an in-cabin music specialist (this was when music specialist and songleader were the same job). The whole music program operated out of the tiny closet in the Chadar now referred to as the board game closet. It was cramped and smelly, and in 2015 I would squeeze in there at 5:30 every morning to practice trumpet (my primary instrument), much to the annoyance of the kitchen staff. The programming was usually very straightforward and based on practical skills, we ran chuggim like guitar, songleading, and songwriting.
I loved the job, exhausting as it was, but after 2015 I needed to take time away to focus on my studies. In that time away I finished college in New Orleans, spent time as a musician on a cruise ship, and made my way back to my home in Portland, Oregon, somewhat weary. Then in March of 2019 I received a message from Jacob Benjamin Glickman, who at the time was the Eva L. Gunther Head Songleader and Music Supervisor. Camp called me home at a time when I serendipitously was looking for a direction, and back I came. That summer was phenomenal, I had a new job as an out-of-cabin specialist with the time and energy to focus solely on programming. Now I’m back again, and from the jump it has been a beautiful experience. We still have the practical skills programs–they are essential–but now I’m cultivating programming that aims at the abstract. Having studied and worked in the field of music for the past several years of my life, I’m hoping to express some of the wonders I’ve discovered. What is the physical sensation of the one-to-one experience of singing in harmony with another person? How do we groove together and play in time and why does it feel so good? I actually had a goorim camper say he felt soothed by playing the drums, focusing on the very concept of time itself!
Anyway, it’s going well and I anticipate it getting better. The sky is dark and they’re setting up for staff movie night.
By Abner Deitle, Music Specialist