And this was very good

 

campWhen I was a young girl I attended summer camp in central Mississippi. The camp was a bit unusual for the time and place—Mississippi isn’t really known for its Jews. This camp, tucked away in the woods, was created to give isolated Jewish kids the chance to live in a community of Jews, at least for a few weeks each year.

And this was very good.

While there, the youth of our peculiar southern diaspora enjoyed swimming, kickball, arts and crafts, kitchen hall duty, sneaking to the boys’ side of the camp (and vice versa), campfire songs, camp Olympics, and a little Torah thrown in for good measure. It was like any other camp for kids, except it was kosher.

And this was very good.

Together we connected to our faith. We connected to our culture. We connected without the burden of needing to explain or defend the idiosyncrasies of the traditions of our typically out-of-place and often misunderstood religion.

And this was very good to be one of the many and not one of the few for a month or two.

Like all good camps, we had our share of scary tall tales and ghost stories, too. The man with the hook. The monster in the lake. The wild animals in the woods.

And of course, there were the stories of the Ghost Riders. These were the scariest tales of all because we recognized the truths that were possible (if not probable) in those tales.

Let me set the scene: the camp was built around a lake and surrounded by forest. If you didn’t know it, you would think we were in the middle of nowhere. Isolated we were. Was this very good?

Beyond the cabins and the mess hall there were woods for exploring. And at the edge of the woods there was a tall fence. Go no further. Do not enter. Do not exit.

At camp, the sun shone by day, the moon and stars by night. And, as the ghost story goes, one night years ago men on horseback came. They were dressed in white robes with a white hoods over their heads and they rode around our camp. They rode around the outside of the fence that marked our borders. Our edges. Our place.

Good is often best understood when balanced with a bit of evil, I suppose.

We were young Jews, but we had plenty of experience with bigotry and fear. We knew what kind of hate and ignorance existed on the other side of that tall fence. We knew our presence, in the beginning, was very likely unwelcome.

It wasn’t unthinkable to believe the fence was part of some grand bargain made between the camp and the towns.

And it wasn’t a hard leap to believe the Ghost Riders were members of an old brotherhood who patrolled the fence as a way to remind us to stay in our place.

I never saw a Ghost Rider myself and the stories themselves were never presented with proof. It was camp mythology, camp lore passed down from senior camper to junior camper over the years. Perhaps the stories have even faded by now. The men on horseback have certainly disappeared.

And this is very good.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about those Ghost Riders. I sense they never really left. They went into hiding. They went undercover. They put down their white robes and hoods and picked up the Constitution to see if there were other fences they could define and patrol. They are not content to just keep a few Jewish kids in their place. Now they are out to scare anyone who doesn’t agree with their narrow-minded ideology. They are contemplating the fences they want to build around women, LGBT people and families, refugees, immigrants, black lives, and more.

And we are here to remind them that we have heard their ghost stories before and we are not afraid. There is no fence they can build that we can’t tear down. There is no hood they can wear that we can’t see through.

And this is very good.

We love. We think. We care.

This is very good….

(This essay references an old camp song from my camp days: This is Very Good by Cantor Jeffrey Klepper. The use of his song does not indicate his agreement with the views expressed in this essay, it was just an important song to me at the time.)

 

 

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One Response to And this was very good

  1. Dina

    Excellent Essay.