I can’t remember exactly when I started wanting to go to HSJ. It was definitely during one of those family weekends camp used to run. I would play with Hannah and Micah and Leah in the old cabins and imagine myself sleeping there in one of the metal bunkbeds, away from home. It took a while until my mom, a single parent, was ready to send me. And while I was only vaguely aware of it at the time, the Jewish community, camp itself included, made it financially possible for me to attend. After my first summer, my life changed forever. From then on, it was divided into two parts – Camp and Not Camp. Not Camp wasn’t always so easy for me, especially during those difficult middle school years. But Camp was an oasis; the one place I felt completely comfortable in my own skin.
In 1997, I traveled with camp to Israel for the first time and I have a vivid memory of telling myself: I will live here one day. This was even as a suicide bomb exploded in the Jerusalem shuk, mere hours after our group had visited the open-air market. I think about that declaration often. I wonder, is it possible my 17 year-old self really predicted the future so clearly? Or have a retroactively created a memory that never really happened? I’m not entirely sure but I do know this: There is a laser-straight line between Henry S. Jacobs Camp and my three Israeli children.
When my daughter was old enough, I knew I wanted to retrace that line, this time from Israel back to camp. By this point, I had drifted away from the camp both socially and geographically and sending Zoe all the way back to Utica, Mississippi seemed far-fetched. But one summer, an old camp friend came to Israel with his family. As we watched our daughters play together, the fuzzy vision of Zoe going to camp began to come into focus. Actually getting her there, especially that excruciating summer when we thought Covid was over and it turned out it really wasn’t, was no easy feat. It was at this point that I got reacquainted with what it means to be a Southern Jew. An entire camp army rallied around us, with Anna at the helm, to get my daughter onto Old Morrison Road. And when we got there, and the first counselor poked his (masked) head into our car to say “Welcome home,” I audibly sobbed.
Zoe had an incredible summer, but so did the rest of us. Wanting to stay close, we hunkered down in New Orleans. I spent the month reconnecting with the people and places that make up my happiest childhood memories. Zoe’s second summer was possibly even more special as she wasn’t going to camp; she was going back to camp, which has become a part of her soul. We spent another summer in New Orleans, now officially a home away from home.
Saturday October 7th 6:30am
Our sleep was pierced by the wailing siren of the Tzeva Adom alarm warning residents to get themselves to a safe room. Our older children each had a friend sleeping over so there were five kids here, all fast asleep. We didn’t even make it down to the safe room for the first barrage of rockets. (Luckily, the Iron Dome does a magnificent job of protecting us). There was another one shortly after and we quickly ran down to the shelter. But through our sleepy haze, something wasn’t making sense. Usually we do not get any rockets in Tel Aviv until hundreds have already been fired into the towns and kibbutzim along the southern border. Why hadn’t we heard anything from them? That’s when we saw it. Blurry security footage of a white pick-up truck with masked gunman hanging off the sides. It was our first indication that something was terribly wrong.
I’ve run out of adjectives to describe the horror and anguish and fear that engulfed all of Israel over the next several days. But through our immense pain, both personal and collective, messages from camp friends poured in. How are you? How are the kids? How can we help? What can we do? Zoe’s bunkmates have been spectacular, keeping her company over Facetime and checking on her constantly. When she was forced to spend her birthday in lockdown, the Israeli counselors somehow managed to create the most beautiful, joyous video montage for her. Some of them recorded their messages from army bases where they are currently defending our country.
When we made the gut-wrenching decision to evacuate, Jacobs Camp alumni leapt into action. They worked around the clock to get us on flights, find accommodations, replace Milo’s lost shoes. They gave of their time and their hearts and their wallets and their homes. They lifted me up when I was ready to quit. They told me over and over again: we will get you through this because you are a part of us and we are a part of you.
Jacobs Camp, which is so deeply ensconced in Jewish values, has made my life and my children’s lives infinitely richer in so many ways. But this week, when fear and sorrow threatened to overcome me, I was once again reminded of the power of this incredible community. From close friends to those of you I don’t even know, all of you have been a source of light amidst so much darkness. This will forever more be what I mean when I talk about Jacob’s Magic.
Please join me in praying for peace, for comfort to those in mourning, for protection over our soldiers and for a safe return of our hostages.
About the Author
Rachel Shapiro Fink
Rachel, a Jacobs Camp alumna, lives in Israel with her family. Her daughter Zoe attends Jacobs Camp.
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