Last night, I went to the second Alumni Shabbat at Gindling Hilltop Camp. These alumni shabbat provide the opportunity for former campers and counselors to come back to camp and reexperience Shabbat there. As I never turn down the opportunity to go to either Hilltop or Hess Kramer, I had my request in the moment things opened. Traffic on the coast highway was light (quite a surprise), and after chillin’ a bit at the Trancas Starbucks (where I parked next to Angelyne‘s pink corvette), I was up to camp around 5:30p. There weren’t a lot of changes this year physically (as compared to last year, when the dining hall was rebuilt), other than they had started remodeling and rebuilding the staff lodge (figure 1). To me it looked like it was completely remodeled, but discussions with someone indicated they had only done half of it.
Shortly after I got there, it was time for Shabbat (they told most of the alumni 545p, but I luckily got there early, because the Shabbat Walk started around 530p). I did bring my staff, which helped with the walk to the chapel. Figure 2 shows a few from the bottom of the saddle between the main part of camp and the chapel, looking up to the dining hall. I noticed during the walk that they had reconstructed the archery area and had a new arrow catching fabric screen, as opposed to the older bales of hay.
One of the special things about Hilltop is the chapel. It (and the chapel at Kramer) is one of the few places that I can feel spiritual (certainly a sanctuary inside a building is not the same thing). Figures 3 and 4 show the view of the chapel. Sitting during services, watching the fog roll in and the sun set just seems to connect you. They had an new siddur this year they were piloting, based upon the structure of the new Mishkon Tefila. There were lots of open spaces where there will eventually be camper-written pieces to supplement the basic prayers (as well as the “Losum Ipsum Dolor” placeholder text). It should be nice when done. The service (as always) was lovely — it was led by Erin the Resident Director, with a fair number of camper creative pieces (more than I’ve seen in past years).
I noticed while in the chapel that the mezuzah made from a beam of the original dining hall was still standing, but the menorah that had been made the previous year was gone. The Malibu winds are strong, and evidently it was snapped off. The number of people seemed smaller this year (and the dining hall seemed less crowded at dinner). Perhaps it is an effect of the recession. Certainly there was less of an expansionist air: last year Gersh was talking about all the additions and all the future plans, which major reworking and potentially a fourth camp. This year didn’t have that push — I’m guessing the plans are still there, but have been delayed or put on hold due to the recession. But I do believe the place will survive — something so special like this must.
After services, we walked back to the dining hall. I was pleased to see that the step I worked on my last year at camp (1978, Session H, when I was the assistant Arts and Crafts specialist) is still there an readable… barely, as shown in Figure 5. The amphitheatre is in bad shape: there are major cracks in the concrete steps, and thumping it with my staff, I could hear that much of the structure was hollow and shakey. Marla (the current A&C director — I can’t remember the Hebrew word they use now) indicated they don’t even bother to paint it anymore, as it won’t last. Current art projects are more on the line of the Modeh Ani board (Figure 6), which is ceramic.
The view from the dining hall (see image to the right) illustrates one reason why this is such a special place. This is looking towards the chapel, over the hills to the ocean, watching the fog roll in below you. You see beauty like this, and you can’t help being touched by appreciate for the artist. Dinner was the typical camp Shabbat dinner: challah, a sweet chicken, noodles, zucchini, puff pastry. They usually don’t innovate on Shabbat, after all, it’s a tradition. Over dinner, I had some interesting discussions with the current songleader (I can’t remember his name): he was interested that I had the original “Cherish the Torah” album, had digitized it, and had scanned the cover. He was also interested that I still had most supplements from my era. I also talked to some of the other alumni (alas, the only name I remember was Nancy Barisch). After dinner was over, we moved into the pavillion (again, I forget what they call it these days) for the song sessions.
Now, in my day (insert the obligatory “whippersnapper”), we did songs at our tables in the dining hall. Now they do them in the pavillion (Figure 7), with words projected on a screen, and the kids jumping and dancing. Most reflect the modern Jewish camp songbook (think the recent URJ “Ruach” albums, and most stuff by Rich Recht, and similar artists. Loud and energetic. Almost none of the old melodies appear (no “Mi Pi Ayl” or “This is the Day”), no camp-written melodies (no “Cherish the Torah” or “Justice, Justice”). But only us fogies would notice that: the kids have a blast. After that, it is down to the plaza for dancing (Figure 8). I didn’t dance (didn’t want to risk my back), but had fun watching. Again, a change. First (as I’ve noted before), whereas in my day dance was driven by records, now it is an iPod nano. Further, the songs are edited together and aren’t the complete songs, in order to fit as many different dances into the time permitted. The dances ran the gamut from traditional (Zemer Atik, Machar, Mayim Mayin, although no Ma-Navu) to modern Israel to fun stuff like Footloose, and the kids had a blast.
After dancing, they did the Shabbat chill. This is a newer innovation they’ve done for the last few years, where they gather the campers into small groups while the counselors do something that calms them down. Last night’s chill include reading from a Skymall catalog, reading from the Cliff Notes of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, reading E. A. Poe, interpretative dance, someone sharing a blog of how he raised a rabbit at college, a book of baby names, what you can do with electricity, syllables… you get the idea. I’ve always suggested they should let Alumni run a chill: I would have been glad to read from NIST 800-53 Rev 3 (PDF), which was released yesterday. That would have put them to sleep :-).
After the chill, the campers went back to their cabins, and I thinked Erin for another lovely Shabbat. From there it was back to PCH, and thence to Kanan Dume and back to the valley. A lovely evening.