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Jacobs Camp Magic: On Short Notice!

Rabbi Barry H. Block



On Friday afternoon, June 24, Jacobs Camp lost its summer song leader. That could happen for any of a number of reasons during any summer. But this summer? Yes, the assistant song leader, asymptomatic but isolating at home after a positive Covid test, would be back in a few days; but what about this Shabbat, one of only three that first session campers would experience? The Shabbat stroll was less than four hours away. Even experienced song leaders rehearse and conduct time-consuming sound checks before a climactic all-camp Shabbat song session—not to mention services.

The entire Jacobs Camp community swung into action.

Rabbi Katie Bauman, at home in New Orleans, preparing to lead Shabbat services—and then, after Shabbat, to travel to England for a wedding and then on to Israel—quickly created a sample song session playlist and provided sheet music for each song. I contacted former Jacobs song leaders, including Rabbi Bauman, who enthusiastically said “yes.” Staff and campers will be so excited to sing with Jacob Friedman, Erika Rosenzweig, and Rabbi Bauman in the weeks ahead.

But still: What about this Shabbat?

The only guitar song leader in camp was Assistant Director Ben Cohen, new to Jacobs this summer. He has a huge portfolio and is learning on the job during a challenging summer. Still, Ben said hineini, as did Summer Assistant Director: Sarah Bate, who has a lovely voice. What followed was magic—we call it “Jacobs Magic.”

Ben, Sarah, and I led the service together, just as I had prepared with the song leader, and Shabbat peace and joy descended upon Jacobs Camp at exactly the right moment. Operations Director Nadav Herman gave a rousing talk, describing the different kinds of fun one can have at camp, including the deep satisfaction that comes from overcoming hardship together. Then, he jumped in the lake, to the delight of campers and staff alike!

After dinner—almost the entire camp is eating outdoors now, in a large covered breezeway between our dining hall and education center—tables were folded and chairs stacked, so that song session could take place right where we had been eating. And it rocked! Ben and a crew of musicians he recruited led a song session as if they had been playing together for years, even though they actually had never done so at all. Ever. Our Israeli staff jumped in to lead an engaging dance session when the song session ended. Jacobs joy filled the camp. That Shabbat, we read the story of the spies, dispatched to the Land of Israel to bring back a sample of its fruit and to answer two questions: Is the Land good? And can we conquer it? All the spies agree that the Land flows with milk and honey, but ten claim that it cannot be conquered: The inhabitants are giants, and the cities are strongly fortified. Only Caleb speaks up, hushes the other spies, and proclaims that, with God’s help, the Israelites will indeed inhabit the land. Caleb does not suggest that victory will come easily. He does not deny any of the obstacles named by the ten. Based on experience, though, Caleb knows that victory is at hand.

Similarly, we would be foolish to deny that this summer is hard on everybody, as URJ does its best to mitigate risk at a time when a highly infectious variant of Covid-19 is spreading widely. Still, like Caleb, we at Jacobs Camp can draw hope from experience. Director Anna B. Herman and her team have led the camp through difficult times before, and they have what it takes to make a magical summer. The huge rate of returning campers and staff this summer is testament to the trust that children, adults, and congregations rightfully place in Jacobs Camp.

The fruit of Jacobs Camp is bountiful. And, as for this summer’s challenge, we can confidently say, as Caleb did, “We shall surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).

We certainly did, on the shortest notice, on Friday, June 24.

About the Author


Rabbi Barry Block



Rabbi Barry Block is the Faculty Dean of Jacobs Camp. Rabbi Block serves at Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, AR.