by: Rachel Waldman
Rachel is a member of this summer’s Camper Care team and will be a senior at Muhlenberg College this fall. She is studying a double major of Psychology and Jewish Studies.
On Monday evening, I had the opportunity to join K’Far Noar and Galil in their “Monday Modalities” prayer service. I chose to attend their service because I saw that it was taking place in Chapel in the Woods. I have spent summers at Camp Harlam since I was a Carmel camper in 2002 and in all of that time, I cannot recall ever being in Chapel in the Woods in the evening. As a camper, I spent seven summers learning about the importance and value of prayer and the spirituality that is part of a Harlam religious service. At home, I attend High Holiday services, attend the occasional Shabbat dinner at my college’s Hillel, and teach at a Sunday School in a reform synagogue, but other than that, I do not often think about my religion or even about God. Interestingly, however, when asked what my absolute favorite thing about Camp Harlam is, I always answer the same thing; services.
You may be thinking, “Rachel, that doesn’t make sense… how could someone that does not even regularly attend religious services at home love them at camp so much?” To that question, I don’t have a definitive response. Perhaps it is the way that the whole community at camp drops what they are doing to partake in the service. Maybe it is the pure silence that occurs as we engage in Silent Prayer. It could be the fact that the whole camp lets go of their judgments of themselves and each other and joins together both physically, by wrapping their arms around their neighbors and swaying, and musically, by joining together to sing the prayers that have become somewhat of a security blanket for so many campers and staff at Harlam.
I have a vivid memory of myself as a middle schooler, being asked during a Yoga/Meditation activity to close my eyes and imagine myself somewhere that is a warm, calm, relaxing place that is far away. Immediately, I thought of a beach, but my sub-conscious told me to dig a little deeper and figure out a more meaningful place. My thoughts were drawn to my summers at Harlam. More specifically, I began to think about what it was like to sit in services at Chapel in the Woods. I was able to vividly recall the feeling of the sun breaking through the trees and hitting my skin, the gentle breeze sweeping across my body, and the clear image of the blue sky peeking in through the leaves over our heads. From that day forward, I go back to that exact state of mind each time I am asked to relax or put my mind in a happy place.
When I walked into Chapel in the Woods on Monday night, I was a bit startled to see the campers and counselors of K’Far Noar and Galil spread out, lying on the wooden benches. They were laying head to toe, taking up the entire lower section of the chapel. The Rabbi who was leading the service was leading a meditation in order to help the campers and staff become more connected with the prayers and themselves. As I lay on a bench in the middle of the Chapel, I got to look up at the sky breaking in through the trees. I began to experience my ritual meditation in Chapel in the Woods, except, this time, I could keep my eyes open and really soak in and appreciate where I was. It blew me away that, for the first time, I was physically experiencing something so special that had previously existed only in my mind.
Towards the end of the “Monday Modalities” service in Chapel in the Woods, the Rabbi explained that he believed “we should leave a service in a more elevated state than we came in.” In my opinion, camp allows us to achieve the elevated state that the Rabbi spoke about. Campers and staff members come to camp in one state of mind and leave in another all together. Harlam provides a rare and unique opportunity for children and young adults to learn valuable life skills, such as independence, responsibility, engaging in social interactions, being part of a community, and becoming comfortable with yourself and with Judaism. Each day, the Harlam community is able to wake up and take part in a meaningful, enriching day. In a matter of weeks, a transformation often occurs that is nearly impossible outside of this facility. I firmly believe that when our campers and staff drive through the gate at the end of each session, we have all grown immensely and have entered into a more elevated state than we came in. It is really a privilege to work in a place that has such immense power