Today I, along with countless others, received news that the Kutz Camp is closing. I’m not alone in understanding that change is necessary. Or that this decision is unfortunate. And, mostly, in mourning the lost of this place–a place that I have long considered home. This isn’t a post to talk about the decision, or what it means, or what I want to do to make a difference, or to create programs to make up for this loss. This is about the loss itself. And what it means to me. So here is my tribute.
The first time I went to the Kutz Camp in lovely, scenic Warwick, Ny was in junior high school with my temple for a retreat. As the bus pulled into the parking lot, carsick from going up and down hills as we approached the site, I vomited. So, my first memory of Kutz is going into the (long gone) TC Dining Room to have a drink of water and wash up. Let’s just say that my time there improved.
It was years later that the TC Dining Room became the front office, and one of the rooms in the hall my office. But that’s getting ahead of things. It was in NFTY that I fell in love with Kutz. While I was never a camper, I spent many weekends there. Through memories of sleeping (or not sleeping) in the lobby, laughing with friends on long nights in the wing, watching the sun rise from the Tron, skipping through various spaces in laughter, sledding down the hill, and countless other memories, it became a place I treasured. It became a place where I continually discovered myself and my potential.
Even now, when I go back, when I see certain places, I relive some of those moments. Rewinding back in the recording of my memory–hearing dear friends say certain lines we still quote to each other. Listening to the wise words of other friends, with whom I haven’t been connected in years–but still feel the connection. Tasting Teddy Bread and buying some to take home. Learning more about myself and my Judaism than I did, perhaps, at any other location. And that was only the beginning.
It was a few years later, that I moved there. Literally, living at camp for 2 years. I remember one night, when all the power blew out, and spending time in my cabin with 2 of my favorite human beings–when the power came back on, turning the lights off because we wanted to preserve the ambiance. I remember learning that Rabin had been assassinated. I remember driving down the hill in a snow storm, to send in my application to rabbinical school–and a month or so later, standing in the dining hall and being told I had been accepted. I remember wondering if the lake was really frozen, and spending a fall afternoon walking around the lake just for the sake of it. I remember weekend after weekend of groups coming in–spending time with the staffs and smiling as I served kids their food. I remember friendships that I developed. And learning how to have a real, adult job. I remember many tears and even more laughs. I remember knowing every corner of that space, and knowing it was my home. I remember some of the most important conversations I’ll ever have. And I still know how to pick most of the locks and where to find just about anything.
Later, in several summers in various roles, as well as throughout the year on retreats, it continued to be my home. Even as new buildings were built and others were torn down (or burned down). Memories were formed and continued to form. It’s hard for me to count how many people I know from those times–some of whom I met there, others of whom I met in other places and connected more deeply there. And yet others whom I encouraged to go there, knowing they would find a home there. And others I met later on, with whom I was able to establish an instant connection, because we shared that place over different times.
And so, I have so many thoughts, memories really: flashes of services in the Tron, teens surrounding the perimeter during the Amidah, as they found their kavanah (or, perhaps, prayed to the Lake God); watching tv shows in a closet while eating Chinese food; walkie talkies interrupting conversations; echoes of prayers sung and song sessions; the program room shaking underneath the NFTY Cheer in the chadar ochel; excavating the JFTY Chapel, several times, and praying there; the first program I ever wrote; the best program I ever wrote; Program Planning Committee Meetings, late at night, during the quiet of camp; nights where the raccoons made me yelp in fear, while trying to show strength while on Shmirah; trips to the Creamery; literally running through fire; impossible challenges; great accomplishments; laughing until it hurt; crying until my eyes ran dry; hugs and love; mourning the loss of those that died too soon; friendships I continue to treasure.
All of that, to me, is Kutz. And I will miss it. Yes, I know, the people and the memories are greater than the place–but still, I’ll miss the place. And I still believe that it is magic. Places that continue to be and those that are no longer: the Wing, Mickey Mouse House, the Tron, the Beit Am, the lobby, Rambam, Rashi, Hillel, Shammai, Esther, Vashti, the library, the infirmary, the TCs, the Hill cabins, the Batim, the pool, the old pool with the backwards U, Pagodas Isaac and Jacob, and even Pagoda Abraham, Lake Rolyn, the Willows, Jackie Robinson, Chock Full O’Nuts, Fac Row, the Program Room, the Old Canteen, and everything else. Shalom, Chaver.