JGR Journal – Day #1
The sun beat down on JGR’s new home for summer 5778 – a serene girl scout campus in Upstate New York – as cars slowly turned in to its winding entryway, dropping off Jewish girls from a colorful array of locations and backgrounds. Before we knew it, the main lodge serving as our mess hall was bustling, as we gathered for a tasty welcome lunch amid great camaraderie and excitement. Each bunk made the acquaintance of their awesome, energetic and devoted counselors; old faces greeted each other happily, and seeds of warm and lasting new friendships were planted. After learning our theme song for this summer, a run-through of safety rules by Rabbi Laber, and being introduced to Health Director Rabbi Shepherd (who was an EMT!), all enjoyed an afternoon filled with upbeat music, meaningful GROW workshops, and some very “cool” water activities.
Our learning focused on our annual theme of Sarah Imeinu (our Matriarch Sarah) and inculcating her incredible qualities, as we – all her daughters – discovered and were motivated to express our inner strengths and unique talents; or, in the Jewish Girls Unite vernacular, “Shine your inner light!” The fun wasn’t nearly ended; after a delicious supper, the girls climbed into the waiting school bus, to… destination Funplex, preceded by a pit stop to purchase some refreshing sodas. At Funplex, we began with Mincha on the grassy area near the parking lot, and enjoyed a number of activities, such as basketball, go-kart racing, soft-ball, spider climb and bungee-jumping.
Everyone had a blast at Walmart, which was our next activity, browsing the aisles and laughing together. With the moon to light our way, we hiked back to our cabins, did our evening routines, and experienced Rebbe time – discussing, singing and bonding. Counselors-in-training (CIT’s) joined the camp staff for a birthday Farbrengen in celebrating the special day of Counselor Tzilka S. She shared a Torah thought which she prepared last year for her birthday, touching upon the deeper meaning of the story of Noach’s Ark. Powerful brachos were exchanged, and participants went around in a circle blessing Tzilka alphabetically. We ended on a sweet note with a decorated birthday cake. At last, we settled down for the night with Shema, and recharged for the beautiful and jam-packed day that lay ahead.
JGR Journal – Day #2
“Is it morning already? And… is that Avraham Fried?” campers groggily wondered, as eyes opened and ears pricked up. Our exceptional head counselors, Chana Yerushalmi and Miriam Chazzan, were indeed trekking through the dewy forest and popping into the girls’ cabins, blaring the upbeat Chassidic tunes from their Bluetooth speakers. We assembled in the lodge for a tasty breakfast of cereal and eggs, served up by our incredible and hard-working waitros, Shterna Sara Ringo, Chaya Attal, Moussia Stone and Elisheva Dinerman. Special points were awarded to the girls who bentched so nicely, and we broke out into a hearty rendition of our theme song. Next, bunks split up for alternating davening and grow workshops. We discussed and discovered what values we treasure, and considered how we can practically apply them. CIT’s were fortunate to meet a special guest on his visit to JGR: Dr. Ed Jacobs, who has spoken at JGR in the past, and dedicated a timeless tribute to his mother – Mrs. Priscilla Jacobs ob”m – in the newly-published Voices in Harmony Songbook. He spoke about her legacy, fondly reflected on childhood memories, and shared stories of her exceptional faith, kindness and spiritual strength. We played the song which he dedicated – the famed “Yiddishe Mama” – and tears glistened in his eyes, touched by the unimaginable impact of Voices in Harmony and his mother’s tribute, as so many girls continue to follow in her footsteps.
This was followed by swimming and boating on the beautiful, serene lake, sprinkled around the border with colorful wildflowers and swaying grasses under a deep blue sky.
We savored a delicious pizza and salad lunch. After a couple hours, we rejoined for Mincha; and, assigned to different counselors, experienced a special-style learning group, called “Tune in Time,” discussing Sarah’s legacy. We continued on to Creative Clubs, including writing, drama and dance, whose leadership was assisted by our own CIT’s.
Beyond Bat Mitzvah and Yaldah bunks enjoyed making sushi, while older girls whipped up their own scrumptious creations later in the evening. We began to prepare for the highlight talent show, with great excitement and a hint of secrecy. As impatient as we were, we enjoyed a delicious dinner cooked by Rabbi and Mrs. Gammal, and bentched with a lot of energy. Hosted in the pavilion as twilight set in, the talent show was marvelous.
Girls performed gymnastics, shared art masterpieces, sang original compositions, and danced to their own captivating choreography. Would you believe this wasn’t the end of the amazing day?
Only followed by some sushi-making, we capped the evening off with a spectacular bonfire, which we circled to roast marshmallows, sing songs from Voices in Harmony, hear a Chassidic story masterfully told by Rabbi Laber, and connect on a deeper level with one another and our souls. We soared high into the starry sky… a classic ending to a day imprinting everlasting memories at the Jewish Girls Retreat.
JGR Journal – Day #3
Sit down, my dear friends, and I’ll tell you a tale, of another JGR day rating ten on the scale. For breakfast (CIT’s were on time for once!), the camp enjoyed eggs, fresh fruit, and a variety of cereals. Rabbi Laber blew the shofar for Elul, and this was followed by GROW workshops and davening. GROW was extra-special today, as campers and their counselors made Challah under the guidance of Mrs. Laber. She shared many inspiring insights of how challah is a model for life. Yeast is life, whose purpose is actualized through the addition of warm water, representing warm and joyous Torah. Contrast serves us; life is enhanced by sweetness – sugar – and a measured pinch of sharpness – like the salt. Eggs and oil are binders; we see so many opposites brought together is satisfying unity, dedicated to a higher purpose.
We all had so much fun boating in the pristine lake under the sun, surrounded by Hashem’s masterpiece of nature. The first half of the afternoon was occupied with preparations for the carnival; lunch; a visit and performance by Chaya-Bracha Rubin, a featuring artist in Voices in Harmony; and shaping our challah (with an optional topping of chocolate chips!) to be baked later.
As it was “Israel Day” in camp, CIT’s designed carnival booth posters with an Israel theme; lunch was pita, falafel, techina, Israeli salad and fries; and challah was separated with a special prayer for our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.
Next, bunks had rest hour, while Rabbi Laber took an elite group of girls volunteering for bathroom maintenance to Dollar Tree, to purchase the necessary supplies, and a treat. As soon as we returned, the carnival began on the pavilion, featuring attractions such as a ‘maze to Israel,’ “Find the Shekel in the Dead Sea,” and “Soda at the Shuk,” an ice-cream sale by the Laber boys and a Kosel art workshop led by Chana Laber. Yours truly ran “Kosel Kandies,” where one could send “candygrams” – uplifting notes to others with a candy attached – building up others with Ahavas Yisrael, and ultimately rebuilding the Bais Hamikdash. Too soon it concluded, and everyone helped tidy up. Supper was followed by Mincha and Tune in Time, at which we studied the songbook, singing together and reflecting on its pertinent messages. Next was a thrilling night activity, “Escape from Russia to Israel.” Bedtime was earlier tonight.
Mysterious hysterical laughter floated down from the top of the mountain where the CIT’s were supposed to be asleep. After Rebbe Time, quiet settled over JGR; and, as our song “Dreaming of Sparkles” goes: “…Even though the sun has gone away, the moon will come ’til tomorrow’s day.” Laila Tov, JGR!
JGR Journal – Day #4
Wake up was bright and early today, the day of our grand trip! Before departing, we took many group pictures today, all geared in our JGU Shine Your Inner Light t-shirts. The Jewish Girls Retreat had a blast at the Six Flags Grand Escape Park. Colors flashed, roller coasters towered, rides gyrated and whirred… Chaotic and crazy, energetic and fun – a fitting place for JGR girls!
We kept our special shirts on to identify and connect us amid the crowds. We assigned shifts and split up, and enjoyed thrilling rides, explored interesting shops and viewed challenging games.
We also saw so many other Jewish families (including some of the Albany-based Shluchim around here!), thank G-d, that we lost count! Sandwiches for lunch and schnitzel for dinner were eaten at the park, followed by Birchas Hamazon.
We davened Mincha, and began our return home on the bus. It was already dusky out; night activities and preparations for bedtime were next on the agenda. Rabbi, Schneur and Baruch Laber, and Rabbi Shepherd made a beautiful bonfire for just the CIT’s. We sat around the flames in the moonlit glen, roasted vegetables and marshmallows, and sang to Counselor Rivka L.’s stunning guitar melodies. Thank you Rabbis for such a warming and soulful way to end off the day!
JGR Journal – Day #5
Shabbos is nearly upon us! After wakeup, we immediately headed to breakfast. To follow were consecutive programs for davening and GROW. BBM and Yaldah’s GROW focused on “Sarah’s Tent.” Mrs. Laber taught them how “Sarah remained in the tent” when the unknown angels arrived to speak to Avraham, and the timeless values of modesty we derive from this story. They also discussed the three miracles which abounded in her home, and how we can mirror them today through practical application: How can we create a spiritual retreat for ourselves when life gets chaotic; what will be our “Sarah’s Tent”? How can we light a spiritual candle? ‘Bake challah’ (i.e. nourish another)? Invite the Divine Presence into our homes? The topic for teens was “Sarah’s Light,” for we inherit her innate ability to speak, nourish and teach, soul-to-soul, with confidence in what we are saying and doing. Jewish women have a very unique touch with this, and we must be fearless when expressing and sharing our inner light.
Staff-member Moussia S. led JGR in an Israeli circle-dance class; we also had the opportunity for boating on the lake, and soon after, the privilege of a visit from a very special woman: Nannette Brenner. She dedicated a set of legacy pages and songs in Voices in Harmony to the vital maternal figures in her life. She brought a unique harp, and played a number of songs about Israel, leading us in an intimate sing-along.
To follow was a number of creative activities – drama, writing, video making, baking/cake-decorating and art. In a whirlwind of Shabbos preparations, some of us found enough time in which to slip away to shower. We were joined by a very special Shabbos guest, Melissa K., who is a long-time JGR Alumna. Soon after a tasty Erev Shabbos snack, we joined for candle lighting, reminiscent of our Mother Sarah’s holy flames. After an inspirational talk by Head Counselor Chana Leah Yerushalmi, we davened a spirited Kabbalas Shabbos and sang. After a beautiful Kiddush by Rabbi Laber, we enjoyed our freshly baked Challah rolls, and of course the sumptuous feast cooked by the Gammals and served by the Waitros. After bentching, we flipped through Voices in Harmony and sang the songs with so much Chayus, even jumping up on the chairs and benches! With much excitement, the beautiful cakes we had decorated were brought out as we sang “Happy Birthday” to Rivkah Laber, who turned fourteen on the evening of the fourteenth of Elul. The birthday girl shared a few thoughts on her namesake, Rebbetzin Rivkah of Lubavitch, and a story of how her great store of Torah knowledge – quite unconventional for women at the time – came in handy. Teens and staff hung around for a birthday Farbrengen, discussing spirituality, Torah values, and contemporary issues. It was an amazing Erev and Leil Shabbos, and we were high on the spirit of Shabbos Kodesh. We reluctantly made our way up the lantern-lit path for bed, but we eagerly anticipated tomorrow.
JGR Journal – Day #6
Although sleeping-in was expected, some of JGR was up earlier than originally planned. After a long breakfast period serving cereal, fruit and cake, we began to daven. Just before we began Mussaf, we broke for a fun parsha game, where a panel of players presented three answers they made up as well as the correct one, based on either the Chumash or Rashi. We had some pretty hilarious results, and all enjoyed an innovative way of learning the parsha. We concluded with Mussaf, and proceeded to a beautiful Shabbos Kiddush and lunch, which featured a fun get-to-know-you-questions game, and concluded with a selection of melodies from Voices in Harmony. Afterwards, we had rest hour and a special Shiyur given over by Rabbi Laber, who taught an excerpt of a Rebbe sicha (talk) on the week’s Pirkei Avos. We discussed the first Mishna’s opening, and learned the deeper meaning of the tradition that was given to Moses on Har Sinai. JGR enjoyed a delightful Mesibas Shabbos (Shabbat party), complete with tasty refreshments and games on the pavilion. We went on to daven Mincha, and have Seudah Shlishit, which continued past dark. We sang and danced, and, following Havdallah, music was added to the dancing.
JGR Journal – Day #7
What an incredible day! Like our theme song for this year goes, “…every single moment will be packed to the max!” It wasn’t far from our minds that this was the last day of JGR, but we decided to fill it up with joy, positive feelings and gratitude for such a special time together, rather than be sad that it was nearly over. The day started out with Davening and GROW, and then we took the bus for a very special trip – to Samascott’s Orchards!
The owners of the sprawling farm growing so many different produce are certainly blessed from Above with a wonderful harvest. Gigantic eggplants, vibrant and sweet strawberries, bounteous blueberries, row upon row of apple trees weighed down with fruit… JGR stuck to the berry fields, and diligently gathered our own little treasure troves. When we returned to our campsite, we went down to the lake for water activities, and the rest of the afternoon was spent preparing for our concluding Banquet. The photography team snapped portraits of campers and staff for this year’s JGR yearbook.
We welcomed our honored guests for the evening: JGR Alumna Melissa K. returned with her mother, and our dear Susan Axelrod (JGU Global Strategy Advisor and mentor to the teens of Mirror Reflections on Thursday nights online)!
The room hummed with excitement and anticipation as we sat down around the finely set tables. Shterna Sarah, Chaya, Elisheva and Moussia labored for hours with impressive dedication to prepare a wonderful, multi-course meal: an elegant salad of spring greens, topped with fruit, candied pecans and lemon-onion dressing; mushroom barley soup; chicken tenders, meatballs, mashed potatoes and steamed savory green beans; and a dessert of fresh fruit salad.
Thank you so much, Waitros; your skill is unmatched! Soon, the camera was ready, and began to roll. Mrs. Laber delivered a beautiful and touching introduction for the evening, recapitulated the highlights we learned about Sarah’s life and legacy, and proceeded to invite each JGR girl individually to come share a few words she prepared for the evening – a lesson about Sarah made personal. We also had the opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to the camp staff, our friends, and everyone who made JGR possible. As girls spoke we laughed – some of us even cried a little – and we took pride in each other’s growth, accomplishments, and the light of Sarah we uniquely express. Our special guests also rose to speak; Mrs. Kearns and Melissa even sang together – a soul-stirring duet of Hannah Senesh’s “Eli, Eli” – right out of a volume of Voices in Harmony, which everyone was presented with a copy of as a gift and memento to take home.
Of course, we can’t go without mentioning the long-awaited results of the bunk-points competition! When finally the suspense became too great, first place went to… the Waitros, who had near (if not more than) a thousand points! Next came… BBM (Beyond Bat Mitzvah)! They won the grand prize of a surprise trip – which turned out to be bowling – and following the banquet they enjoyed a night out on the town. The rest of JGR remained; we cleared up, and schmoozed with one another and our guests. Multiple spontaneous kumzitzes sprang up around the room, which ultimately united into one large circle, complete with Rivka L.’s guitar (which we took turns playing and composing our own ditties on), songbooks, a good dose of achdus and simcha, and many open hearts. For a long time we played and laughed and loved like this; we didn’t want it to end. The last inspirational activity of the day, was the candle lighting ceremony, for CIT’s and staff only.
Though our layout was simple – just a tea-light and a match for each of us on a gleaming sheet of foil – sitting in intimate harmony in one of the campsite’s spacious canvas tents, we could really imagine we were sitting in Sarah Imeinu’s holy dwelling. Each girl shared something – a lesson she gained, challenge, question or inspirational experience – knowing her voice was valued, and she could share without judgement. Then, after igniting herself spiritually, she neared to kindle her little candle of wax and wick. Each lighting was accompanied by thoughtful silence, as we gazed at the candle, and slowly broke into a quiet song. And with motherly pride and eternal love, Sarah Imeinu herself joined us.
JGR Journal – Day #8
“Could it really be the last day?” I wondered as I opened my eyes to the grey morning. It had gone by so fast. There was no time to be sad though; we quickly had to pack all our luggage, treasure every last moment we had together and utilize it to the fullest. Breakfast and between Tefillos of Davening were filled with hugs, and scribbling contact information in each other’s journals. “JGR, when the summer ends, with regret I say goodbye; I promise to keep in touch as tears spill out of my eyes. But soon with Moshiach, we’ll join together once more, and fill Yerushalayim with the Ruach of JGR!” ~Chavie Sobel, “I Flip Through the Album”
P.S. We are so grateful for the gift and blessing of Jewish Girls Unite, utilizing innovative education, creativity, high technology and a large dose of passionate vision, to keep us inspired and in touch. You are warmly and personally invited to stay connected with your JGR sisters online at JGU – which is much like JGR all year-round! Though our summer series is coming to an end, the new year will G-d willing bring new series, including Beyond Bat Mitzvah on Wednesday nights, teen leadership workshops on Thursday evenings, and Creative Online Clubs on Sundays. We hope you will also enjoy the Blog, where you can comment and discuss, share and express, read and explore; there is something for everyone!
***Authors’s Note: In addition to those featured in this journal, we also have a store of photographed and videotaped memories on Google Drive. Hope you enjoy!***