JGR, Winter 2017/5778
December 25/Teves 7

How incredible it was… Every moment of the entire day was totally immersed in the spirit, love, unity and song of JGR!

Wakeup was scheduled for quarter of eight this morning, but not all girls could be roused at once.  Some woke up to the splash of Negel Vaser, others to the whispers and giggles of their neighbors, and yet others by their internal clock, signaling that it was time to get up to celebrate another glorious day!

And that is just what we did!  After a delicious breakfast spread of fruit, cereal, pancakes, yogurt and eggs (and a warm farewell to the cheerful Rebbetzin Bomzer, who was Mashgicha representing the Vaad Hakashrut), campers and counselors alike assembled into a circle.  Mrs. Laber led the traditional Modeh Ani Minute, during which we sang the first tefillah of the day in unison, and contemplated “What am I grateful for?” with encouragement to share.  Our lovely Voices in Harmony songbooks were handed out once more, and we opened our davening on a musical note.  The song prior to prayers was key in attuning our thoughts and feelings with a sense of joy, and awareness of the King we were speaking to, and the power of those moments.  Song makes our tefillos more soulful!  Two of our wonderful counselors filled in the roles of co-chazzanot, and with no further ado, we davened a beautiful period of Shacharis and Tehillim.

Everything’s better… when we work together!!!

Takin’ it easy, and enjoying some refreshing natural frozen treats!

Earlier in the morning, as girls passed by windows and doors, they were delighted to be met by the sight of snowfall, which layered into glimmering blankets of powder.  “Ma rabu ma’asecha Hashem… How great are Your works O Hashem…” {Tehillim 104:24}  After davening-circle concluded, permission was given to bundle up and go outside!  How much fun we had!  Girls teamed up to build snowmen and snowwomen, and we observed how when we join our efforts together, we can do so much more!  Other girls took a walk across the field that had been transformed into a gleaming wonderland.  A few launched into snowball fights, and some settled down more serenely to scoop up snow and nibble ice.

Dance party!!! But was it even planned…? ONLY AT JGR…

The rest of the afternoon was packed with a vibrant range of activities.  Girls enjoyed sports (an energetic basketball game, and swimming); a spontaneous, exhilarating dance party; creative clubs (public speaking with Susan Axelrod actually evolved into a JGU magazine planning session, and heart-to-heart mentoring on healthy, balanced and mindful living); lunch; Tune in Time; an inspiring Sichos class with Mrs. Laber on the virtue and courage, challenge and reward of the Jewish women of Galus Mitzrayim, and how we can implement their strength and spirit today; and a special art workshop with Ahuvah Coates, JGU Art Head.

Dancing like true Chassidim!

Ahuvah shared with all of us the beauty of mixed-media, and passed around her work as an example; with various materials and rich colors, it depicted a scene of Miriam haNavia and the Jewish women dancing after Krias Yam Suf, which was inspired by the cover image of the songbook, an original by Chanie Chanin (2017).  After that, she left us to resort to our own creativity, to encourage us to shine uniquely, instead of giving us a step-by-step tutorial.  That is one of my favorite things about art in JGU:  It never ceases to inspire me how a crowd of girls are given one idea to work with as a method and springboard, but each ultimately produces something novel from the next girl’s.  We were given an array of colorful oil-based clays to work with, sequins, tinfoil, pencil shavings, acrylic paint, brushes, and a white piece of poster-board to serve as a canvas.  The focus and devotion to our work was incredible, and hours glided by before we even realized it.  In the end, each girl had a masterpiece to take home!  Thank you Mrs. Coates!

J-G-RT! Here you can see most of the girls with their gorgeous masterpieces. The strength of Miriam courses through us as the power of unity, and courage to shine and sing our soul’s song in a spiritually dark and confining world.

Following a heavy-duty clean up, and preceding preparation for dinner (thank you and Yasher Koach to so many girls who worked so hard and helped get the job done!), JGR assembled for our famous talent show!  Friends, parents, and supporters, I wish you all could have been there in the audience with us; for “JGR’s Got Talent” is one of the poignant culminations and manifestations of what JGR and JGU strive to accomplish:  Inspiring and molding the future mothers and leaders of our people, girls who courageously share all the beautiful gifts Hashem has graced them with for the good, and to light up the world.  The radiance of their neshamos was so powerful in those moments, and we were very moved and fortunate to enjoy all the girls’ performances.  We had singers, pianists, dancers, artists, and beacons of love, unity and friendship…

Rabbi and Mrs. Gammal hit another home run with a delicious, warm and nourishing dinner of salad, soup, and a goulash-like dish with noodles.  We didn’t forget to thank Hashem, as we lifted up our voices in harmony during bentching!  Program director Rikki Winner, counselors and campers clustered into a side-room for an exciting tzedakah auction, and there were many oohs and ahs over the lovely gifts girls had brought to supply the auction.  With every dollar bid, it was a win-win, when we knew we had an amazing opportunity to help support our Jewish sisters!

Most of Bunk 2 – the BBM (Beyond Bat Mitzvah) Division – graciously pausing their busy decorating work to give us a beautiful smile (x4)!

One of the Lamplighters’ two cakes: Inspired by the song B’Yachad, sung by Mordechai Shapiro.

A couple of girls who had remained in the now-silent auditorium, catching up with a heartfelt conversation as only soul-sisters can, were greeted by a new burst of energy and noise, as girls filed back in after the tzedakah auction.  With grins of resignation, they stood up and joined the commotion, as we got ready for… a cake-decorating contest! Girls were split up by bunk, and each given a songbook to browse through.  The contest’s twist was that each group was charged with selecting a song to use as inspiration in designing their cake!  Well, actually two cakes, a vanilla and a chocolate, baked by Raizel Laber (by the way, she and her sister Shaina have established a local business together, called S&R Sweets!  I promised I’d help spread the word…  They’re already taking orders, so if you’re in Albany NY…).  Aside from frosting, decorations and toppings included mini-cookies, pretzel sticks, sprinkles, confetti, fruit chews and confectioner’s sugar.  When time ran out, bunks were individually welcomed to come up and present, to the panel of three judges and the camp, and sing their song of choice!

Still enjoying slices of our sweet creations, we gathered into a broad circle for a Niggunim music workshop, prepared by the JGR staff.  Each counselor had selected a Niggun, a typically wordless, Chassidic melody (there is a chapter of Niggunim in Voices in Harmony, so please stay tuned!), shared a video or recording of the song, and prepared a story and brief oral presentation on its meaning and beauty.  Highlights included Shamil, Anim Zemiros, Ani Ma’amin and the Beinoni.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for all of the counselors to share, but the time and effort, thought and passion they each put into it was truly inspiring.

The Candle-lighting ceremony was postponed that evening until the next, saving some of the best moments for last, but amazingly, no one went to bed.  In the rooms where sleeping arrangements were set up, older girls played and chatted with the youngest ladies, impromptu singing circles condensed across the floor, as girls sang until they were hoarse, and a couple teens settled down at a table for a deep, thoughtful conversation with Mrs. Laber.  We had quiet time, too, for journal reflections and Krias Shema.

I, personally, didn’t go to sleep that night until almost 3AM.  And I didn’t want to.  I was too happy to be truly tired.  When you are so focused on a purpose, and so high on ruchniyus, it is difficult to relinquish even a moment of your time, when all you yearn to do is chase after your dreams and come closer to Hashem.  In the end that night, I did chase my dreams… albeit behind a pair of closed eyelids, as I recharged for the next morning, a new bracha that Hashem would  hopefully give me.  Even though JGR was nearing to a close, I knew that I would take the inspiration and teaching I had received, absorb every precious drop of it, and carry it with me through all my days.