JGR, Winter 2017/5778
December 26/Teves 8

I stretched and squinted.  Had the past two beautiful days just been a dream?  It felt like they had glided by in a blur.  A wondrous blur, but too swiftly.  Thank G-d for the one more amazing day that stretched ahead.  What a blessing that each day was a celebration of life, unity, friendship, Torah and music with my Jewish sisters!

I groped about for my alarm-clock, and finally pulled it out from under my side.  Funny, I wonder how it got there…  It hadn’t woken me up with its cheerful chirp, but rather I’d been jerked out of a peaceful slumber by a stern voice instructing us girls to get up and pack.  I looked up to see it was a woman-member of the JCC staff, and with an expressive hand on her hip, she made it clear to us that the room was needed soon, and immaculate.  I quietly washed negel vasser and clambered up with my toiletries and clothes, hoping to get a head start before the mad rush.  The woman who admonished us didn’t look too cheerful, so as I passed by, I gathered a smile and good morning… and was surprised and pleased to be mirrored with a set of “pearly-whites” in return!

As (almost) everyone got ready for their day, those remaining mobilized into a super clean-up, packing and stacking, rolling up mats and picking up garbage; the JCC staff would later on vacuum and inspect.  What amazing teamwork!  To be honest, I became so zealous with my job, that I headed over to the practically empty corner where the counselors had slept, ready to retrieve the last mat from beneath an empty sleeping bag… or so I thought.  A counselor pointed out to me just in time that someone was still in there!  A very small someone I guessed…  Only after she mentioned it did I see a lone finger poking out from the snug closure.  After much rushing and fussing, we finally packed up JGR!

We then enjoyed a delicious oatmeal and yogurt parfait bar for breakfast, settling down around a few tables.  As I sat down, I noticed a couple girls discreetly roving around for an empty spot.  I told them to take my seat, and got a new chair, placing it near my bunkmates, the Lamplighters.  I promptly decided that I wanted my siddur already next to me, for bentching and Shacharis, so I searched for it in my suitcase in the next room.  When I returned, my seat was missing, so I retreated to the stack of vacant chairs.  I glanced over to see Mrs. Laber and Mrs. Gammal place their breakfast down on a table in the corner.  They had nowhere to sit, so I returned to the stack to retrieve one for each of them.  They appreciated the gesture, and I was happy to help.  When I wove my way back to my place at the table… my latest chair was gone.  This went on for a good period of time, but in the end, we all found our place.  If I was annoyed at all then, I laugh now, reflecting on a quote from a Torah giant of our recent past, Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l:  “One who brings a single chair for himself is a mere schlepper.  But one who brings two chairs – one for himself and one for a friend – he is called a ba’al chesed.”

Deep in thought, deep in prayer…

Nothing – not even a mad-rush – can stop a Yid from her prayers!

Davening Circle was next on the agenda, and we pulled up our seats in a cozy, wide, oblong formation.  We opened with a Modeh Ani Minute, and a reflective introduction  on “Soul Songs” by Tzipporah Prottas.  Tefillos that morning were quiet and intense; perhaps because we were trying absorb every drop of these precious, holy moments together, knowing that they wouldn’t last forever?  Perhaps because we were reaching a pinnacle in prayers, after having become so in tune with Hashem and our souls over the past two days?   We maintained the serenity for a brief while afterwards, singing and listening to wonderful Jewish music from a lit-up, color-changing speaker.  Girls were also welcomed to take a pen and write whatever they desired to in their journals, such as lessons they learned, personal notes to each other, or even just doodles.  Cards with writing prompts were scattered across the table surfaces to help girls get their creative juices flowing.

Interesting architecture in Albany NY.

Last touches to packing were made as we said goodbye to the Albany JCC; and thank you so much to Rabbis Laber and Shepherd – all the schlepping and arranging you carried out so our luggage would be transported to the right place at the right time did not go unappreciated!  We climbed onto the bus, and then we were off to… an ice-rink for skating!  En-route, girls taught each other favorite songs, laughed and schmoozed.  I asked if counselors were taking song requests, and recommended Tzivia Kay’s Miracles Go On.  In turn, without missing a beat, they suggested I lead it; and then I did something I would never imagine myself doing in a hundred years.  I sang a solo.  Hashem was truly coursing through me at that time (but what speech doesn’t He sustain?  It’s always Him speaking through us!  “Hashem sifsai tiftach – G-d, open my lips…), and I sang with a with a depth and confidence that I’ve never musically experienced before.  The heart of Albany – our destination – was a thrilling fusion of the modern and quaint.  There were lines of colorful town-houses, the stately capitol building, parks and monuments, industrial complexes and train-tracks situated on icy river’s banks, winding streets, and all sorts of fascinating architecture!  I and a few other girls remained on the bus to help kitchen-staff member Adina unload supplies we needed for lunch while the rest of the group went ahead.

The Connecticut Crew! From L.- R.: Tzipporah P., Avigail E., Yaffah F., & Shoshana F.

Staying warm together around a fire! “…We can out-storm any weather, with harmony, harmony together!” –8thDayBand

For someone (me) who hasn’t gone ice-skating or even worn a pair of such footwear for almost a decade, the balance challenge and walk to the rink was slightly intimidating.  I, who almost never raises my voice for no reason, could be heard yelping in trepidation of falling over or sliding over ice-patches (wait a minute… wasn’t that last “concern” basically the point of my being there?).  I wasn’t the only one, but from that mutual nervousness blossomed one of the most beautiful things:  Harmony and true Ahavas Yisrael.  Girls partnered up to support one another for the long walk, and sacrificed a portion of their own time at the rink to ensure that others didn’t miss out on participating in the exciting opportunity.  How much fun we had gliding along together on the rink!

Ladies… March!


After we returned our skates, we went back to the rink-area, and Mrs. Laber made an announcement:  Head-counselor Chaya Mushka Lezak and program director Rikki Winner were patiently waiting on the 42nd story of the nearby Corning Tower to take a bird’s-eye snapshot of the entire JGR!  First we assembled into a broad heart shape, and then into a simple line, with a few girls kneeling or crouching in front. The next item on our agenda was to go meet Chaya Mushka and Rikki in their lofty location.  We made our way down the icy brick-paved walkway, and I ran ahead to get a head-on shot of the march.  The chilling gusts were so powerful, that it was physically challenging to push forward!  “Barchi nafshi es-Hashem… Hasam-avim r’chuvo hamhaleich al-kanfei-ruach… Oseh malachav ruchos… – My soul, bless the Lord… Who makes clouds His chariot, which goes on the wings of the wind… He makes winds His messengers.” {Tehillim 104}  I was a bit meshuggeze (crazy) when I unzipped my coat for a moment and stretched out my arms to feel the full resistance.  Talk about receiving the Divine Presence!  Just a little joke…

A glorious panoramic view from the 42nd story of the Corning Tower, of the opened heavens, city of Albany, and blurry mountains on the horizon.

Think about it… Hashem gave man the miracle and mastery of architecture! Something else we can thank Him for…

Finally when we made it up to the 42nd floor, we were met by a most astounding view.  The sun poured through the clouds interspersed through the sky, and truly conveyed the appearance of “the heavens opened.”  The nearby mountains gracefully sloped in dark greens and browns, and the ones in the distance blurred as a bluish haze into the horizon.  “Ma rabu ma’asecha Hashem – How great are your works, O Hashem…” {Tehillim 104}  From our tranquil perches in the rock-solid window-niches of the rotund chamber, we gazed over the land below.  We marveled at how vastly different it felt observing from above, compared to making your way down there, personally.  Our present setting was simply perfect for a moment of Cheshbon-haNefesh (soul-accounting and reflection).  One thing I was reminded of, was the value of taking the time to retreat from the daily grind of life to your own inner sanctum of peace and quiet (reminiscent of the tower chamber we were gathered in); there you can recollect, reframe, recharge (the new “3 R’s”!), speak to you soul, and hear her whispers… what Hashem wants of you, and that He loves you infinitely.  That is something I must translate into practice more often.  I also grew in my courage and Bitachon (trust in Hashem).  Personally, I am afraid of heights; so why was I sitting on the windowsill of the 42nd floor of a skyscraper?  Try to figure that one out.

Sitting together… gazing out and down. “…Every time you manage to conquer your fears, see the blessing, say Amen.” –Rivka Leah Cylich

When we first arrived in the room and I looked out, I gasped and reeled back from the window.  While there, I learned that a particular counselor shared my qualms.  Do you know what we did together?  In tandem, we settled together on one sill, peered out, and down.  We sat like that for a few moments silently, breathing slowly, and absorbing sight, from the gleaming river gliding by and intricately looping freeways, to people strolling about and traffic managing its best.  “Hashem li v’lo irah! – Hashem is with me, and I will not be afraid!” {Adon Olam, Birchos haShachar}  The sun had begun its golden descent, but no one wanted to leave.  We stayed for a few minutes more and took another group picture, then gathered our things, and returned to the hustle and bustle of life below.

Nostalgic black & white snapshot of a trestle over the Hudson.

Once on the main floor, we rode an escalator to an enormous underground complex called The Concourse.  The unusual hallways had a unique atmosphere and design; number one because of its subterranean venue, and also for its status of part-mall (there was a collection of a few restaurants and shops here and there) and part-art-gallery (with modern paintings peppering the walls and sculptures across the floors.)  I think there was even a grand piano.  There were elevators and escalators to enter certain buildings from the lowest level, such as The Corning Tower and The Egg – a performing-arts center.  We may have gotten a little lost for a bit, but everyone had fun, and we soon returned to the bus that would take us to the Maimonides Hebrew Day School for our final evening together.

“The Egg”

Bunks split up for Tune in Time, where we read a selection by R’ Tzvi Freeman of on the depth of our Matriarchs, and then we had some energetic discussion.  We filled in membership cards and signed up to continue Tune in Time over the phone throughout the year with a counselor or fellow camper.  I am very fortunate to have enjoyed two of those reunions already; I’ve learned tremendously from her dynamic Torah teaching, and have also inspired her in my own way.  To follow was the long awaited candle-lighting ceremony, this year modified to be a glow ceremony, after which every girl had a colorful glow-stick to take home as a memento.  Each young lady was invited and encouraged to stand up and share for a minute what inspired her most at JGR, or something she gained.

Our Glow Ceremony… Light Up the Night!

Every girl had something touching to contribute; here are a few highlights:  Abigail Edelman, a Lamplighter, shared ‘I learned how important it is to be the second person to join another.  You don’t always have to be the first to start something.  We feel much more confident, when we receive the support from another joiner.  For example, it’s easier to sing with another than to sing alone.’  Shternie Elewitz, a counselor, shared ‘I learned to use our talents to bring out the best in ourselves. We can work through a challenge by using our talents, like the women in Mitzrayim who stayed strong through music.’  Dina Feldman, a camper, shared ‘I like how everyone is family and so accepting of each other!’  Sarale Geisinsky, a counselor, shared ‘I really appreciated the achdus (unity).  At JGR, Everyone can be friends and get to know each other. Singing and dancing is a way to express our soul, as we see it expressed in this camp!’  Elizabeth Minharoon, a camper, shared ‘During the talent show, we messed up and did it again.  I learned to keep trying and practice.  Don’t give up.  If it doesn’t work try again.’  Chaya Greenberg, a counselor, shared ‘There are so many people here from different backgrounds and places. Everyone is accepted for who they are.  I also loved the unplanned things, like dancing anytime and when we broke out in song.’  Tzipporah Kaufman, a camper, shared ‘I loved that we all went swimming together.’  Rochel Resnick, a camper, shared ‘I loved seeing so many talents in the talent show.’  Dina Rosenthal, a Lamplighter, shared ‘There is a lot of achdus here.  I loved the davening together.  I haven’t heard it in a long time.  Counselors believe in us and it motivates us to give back and share our talents.’  Yaffah Ferber, a camper, shared ‘I loved the niggunim sing-along and learning their deeper meaning.’  What I shared, was ‘I learned so much from the staff’s devotion. They give so much time for anyone who needs them with sensitivity, kindness and a listening ear. This is something I want to integrate and emulate.’  I’m not sure if it’s possible for me to describe it to you if you were not there, but our souls were shining brighter than our neon glow-sticks, or even a candle’s flame ever could.

Everyone enjoyed the banquet spread consisting of delicious chicken schnitzel, wraps and salad.  When the head-staff, counselors, and all those going to NY that night were notified the bus was there to take them – and leaving soon – everyone catalyzed into a crazy rush for last goodbyes.  Counselors halfway-out-the-door, too horrified by the thought of leaving a camper behind un-hugged, bolted back in, resulting in a few collisions.  The room looked like a beehive, and sounded mildly like an elephant-stampede.  I wish I could’ve recorded it.  Girls who we thought left returned, and upon our pleasant surprise, explained that they were still leaving.  My uncle once told me a joke:  What is the difference between Jews and non-Jews?  You must know, there is a difference.  Non-Jews never say goodbye, and leave.  Jews say goodbye, and never leave!  I’ve seen this to be true (in my family, at least).  Indeed, it is difficult to say goodbye, but it is eased with the thought that we will reunite again, and may it be with the coming of Moshiach, bimhaira beyameinu mamesh!


P.S.  Wouldn’t you treasure staying in touch with the wonderful girls you’ve met?  Aside from phone calls and emails, another special platform – special for you! – is here online with us at JGU!  Please join us for a one-of-a-kind workshop during the year!  To learn more, see page at this link for details on our classes.  Or, you may enjoy the Forums (accessible here); revisit memories from celebrations and seasons of JGR gone by, start up a new discussion, share your thoughts and feelings, get advice from other amazing girls like you, and so much more, in a safe, welcoming, warm and empowering environment.  JGU is your JGR home year-round!  Don’t be shy to drop a comment, or if you have any questions, please email or me, at .  We’d love to get in touch with you!

You can also enjoy more photos from the Retreat in this article here.

Love to you, my Jewish sister,