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Thought For Shabbat

Melissa’s Message | Shabbat Chukat | June 27, 2014


As our first Shabbat as a summer community draws near, I am inspired by the community that our teens and staff have worked to build this week. One of the real beauties of this place is that each summer the community works to define itself, to foster a community that welcomes every individual into it, and celebrates the unique talents and gifts of every person here. I have seen that manifest this week in interactions between cabin mates, in Majors, during free time, and in each of our programmatic aspects of camp.


As we began camp last Sunday evening, we gathered by the campfire to hear about the history of this remarkable place – first as Grossman’s Dude Ranch in the 1950s, followed by becoming the Chock Full O Nuts Coffee Company’s executive leadership center in the early 1960s. I always find it inspiring that the URJ (in 1964 the UAHC) chose to create Kutz on a piece of property whose history was so congruent with our values of holy community, camaraderie, and leadership. That evening set a framework in place for the week, as our participants were able to get to know camp, understand how camp life works, and begin to really delve deeply into programming. Some of the highlights of the week included evening programs focused on imagination and leadership, social action, celebrating NFTY’s 75th birthday, and an outstanding evening of music with Jewish artists Michelle Citrin, Alan Goodis, Spike Kraus and Ryan Leszner. And we were delighted to have URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs join us via webinar to talk with us about the recent vote of the Presbyterian Church to divest from three companies doing business in and with Israel. You can see Rabbi Jacobs’ interview on CNN, which we also shared to set the framework of the conversation.


Our week was enhanced by outstanding faculty, all of whom donate their time to enhance our program and the community. We are so grateful that the following Jewish leaders were able to be with us throughout the first week of camp:

  • Lynne Butner, NFTY Southwest Regional Director of Youth Engagement, Salt Lake City, UT
  • Michelle Citrin, Artist in Residence, Brooklyn, NY
  • Alan Goodis, Artist in Residence, Chicago, IL
  • Andy Harkavy, BEIT-RJ, Baltimore, MD
  • Rabbi Molly Kane, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, Brooklyn, NY
  • Dr. Madelyn Mishkin Katz, HUC-JIR, Los Angeles, CA
  • Rabbi Ilana Chernow Mills, Temple Solel, Paradise Valley, AZ
  • Alona Nir-Keren, URJ-JAFI Central Shaliach, New York, NY
  • Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, OH
  • Beth Rodin, Associate Director of NFTY, Chicago, IL
  • Alex Rogers, NFTY Operations Manager, New York, NY
  • Rabbi Rachel Sabath bet Halachmi, PhD, Presidential Scholar and Director of Recruitment and Admissions. HUC-JIR, Cincinnati, OH
  • Steve and Helene Sachs, URJ Chairman of the Board, Chevy Chase, MD
  • Rosanne Selfon, URJ Camp Harlam Camp Committee Chair, Former President Women of reform Judaism & URJ Board of Trustees, Lancaster, PA
  • Cantor Michael Shochet, Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, VA
  • Rabbi Melissa Zalkin Stollman, HUC-JIR Certificate in Adolescents and Emerging Adults Coordinator, Parkland, FL

Members of our week one faculty with assistant director Kelly Biedinger (top left) and faculty liaison Julie Marsh (top right).


Among other components of camp, our faculty teach in Minor block C, from 2-3 PM each day. These minors last for one week. Topics this week included Israel in the Media, Pirkei Avot: What A Bunch of Really Old Rabbis Know About Leadership, Where’s the Beef? An Understanding of our Prayerbook, Tachlis: Let’s Have A Real Conversation About Israel, Making Memories, Mitzvah Corps for the Non-Mitzvah Corps Major, Mindfulness for Musicians,  Make ‘em laugh! Laughter, Humor, and Stand-Up Comedy in Jewish Tradition and Culture, The Five, Bad Girls of Torah!, Reclaiming Leadership, Environmentalism, Self Portraits, and Alpine Tower and Teamwork. And camp continues to offer a variety of learning and leading opportunities through chugim (choices), which change every day, and of course through music – we sing a lot here!


One of my favorite times of the day is Siyyum – our closing circle that brings the entire community together every evening. We close out each day by singing. Then one or two participants each evening share reflections on their day – in what ways they have been influenced or impacted by something they learned, or someone they have met. Hearing their words reaffirms so many things that are good and just about this holy place. As we finish siyyum by singing the bedtime Shema and Hashkiveinu, where we ask God to spread a shelter of peace over us, participants and staff stand arm in arm and take a moment as a whole together, there is such beauty reflected in the faces who are writing the future of the Reform Movement and Jewish peoplehood.


As we enter Shabbat this evening, we will take time to reflect on the rich week we’ve completed, dream big about opportunities for next week, and enjoy each other through prayer, dance, and song. It continues to be a joy and an honor to have your teens here with us this summer. From our summer home at 46 Bowen Road to yours, we’re wishing you Shabbat shalom!


– Melissa