By Glen Feinberg
Avodah was the name of our unit at URJ Camp Harlam in the summer of love, 1969. Some of us, myself included, had been looking forward to this summer for several years, as it marked a seminal transition from camper to something better, different. No longer part of the main camp, separate and distinct, with newly acquired space and place in the idyllic Avodah Village.
We were inspired by Avodah of 1968, whom we had watched the previous summer. They were a group of nicknamed and spirited teens, admired in sports, with exceptional creativity and good looks. We had watched them have the time of their lives, and we were intent on having the same, at least in our own way.
Avodah means “work,” and work we did. We were waiters in the Chadar Ochel for three meals a day, which required an insanely early wake-up and breakfast, followed by set-up and service for the other two meals of the day. In addition, we had a Work Project that we worked on each day. The projects ranged from staining our still-new bunks, to clearing paths and innumerable set-up and take-down of the chairs in the Beit Hatarboot. Whatever was assigned, we seemed to do it with a certain willing swagger, and we grew used to fulfilling any and all requests.
Early on in the summer, Rabbi Howie Bogot, then Education Director at Harlam, showed us a project we were going to begin on a new Chapel in the Woods. He showed us the three-trunked tree where the Torah would sit and how the hillside would be cleared to allow for benches for the campers. We then were shown a large boulder up in the woods above where the Chapel would be built. Rabbi Bogot said that we would move this boulder down to serve as the Reading Table for the Bimah below. It certainly seemed a challenge to say the least.
Over the next few weeks, we took on the project with particular zeal. We removed trees, graded the rough hillside, and generally prepared the site. The boulder was excavated down a few feet. Ralph Eckley, Harlam’s Caretaker and all-around Fix-It Guy, along with several of his crew, drew a (huge) chain around the stone, pulling it completely out of the ground using a large tractor. Then, using another heavier tractor, the stone was dragged down the hill to the spot Howie had designated. I cannot remember with certainty, but I believe the stone was turned over to reveal a flatter surface and this was used as the top of the Reader’s Table. I did not see it happen but was told about it by Ralph.
The Chapel in the Woods was used sparingly that summer, with the Eisendrath Chapel on the Hill being the main sanctuary for Shabbat services. Chapel in the Woods was mostly used on hot days to gain the benefit of the shady canopy. It gained popularity in following summers as subsequent Avodah units finalized, refined, and added to the original simple space that Avodah 1969 had built.
Glenn Feinberg attended Camp Harlam from 1967 to 1977 as a camper, counselor and Unit Head. His family has a deep connection to Harlam, and he returned in August 2018 to attend the Harlam@60 Anniversary Weekend. During that gathering, the Chapel in the Woods was dedicated in the name of longtime Director, Arie Gluck, and renovations to the space were unveiled including the replacement and expansion of seating, creation of an elevated stone Bimah, placement of landscaping and privacy screens featuring art to reclaim the fidelity of the sanctuary, and the rock – yes, the rock – was rest in the same location but 18-inches higher. How that was done is another story.