IN HONOR OF JO-ELLEN UNGER
Like an apparition, she came walking down the dirt road. A young woman making her way to a camp-site on a late Friday afternoon. Dressed in jeans and a colored, ragged t-shirt, her hair in loose curls. She stopped at Security.
The young man and woman in the security box by the gate asked “Who are you?” And she smiled.
With that smile a feeling of peace, of warmth, of love enveloped them both. It was inevitable… they just let her on by. As she passed, they suddenly realized what they had done.
She had entered the camp without being stopped. They pulled out their walky-talkies to let the office know.
“We think we let a stranger into camp.”
The office staff sat up when they heard the message. A stranger! They ran into the Camp Director’s office to warn her but before they could get the words out of their mouths… the young woman entered the office.
“Will you show me around?” she said with a smile. With that smile a feeling of peace, of warmth, of love enveloped them. The Camp Director stepped forth. “I will show you around myself,” she said.
The woman smiled and nodded in agreement.
They started on their way around the dirt roads of the campsite. The passed the camper’s cabins. Clattering sounds of cleaning up and showers, melodic sounds of readings being practiced, and prayers being chanted could be heard inside the thin walls. “This is where our campers live” said the Camp Director.
The woman laughed with joy. It seemed to the Camp Director that the woman’s clothes became less ragged than she first remembered seeing them. But perhaps that was just her imagination?
The Camp Director and the woman kept walking. As they passed the Art Room, counselors and campers came forth with decorations for the Shabbat table. Hand-made flowers and beautiful banners. “These will decorate our Shabbat tables” the Camp Director said.
The woman looked so happy. It seemed to the Camp Director that the woman had walked in wearing jeans and a colored t-shirt. But wait! The shirt was now white. Perhaps she just did not remember well?
The Camp Director and woman kept walking. The maintenance crew were putting away their tools and the kitchen staff were returning to the Dining Room readying to serve the Shabbat meal. The glorious smells of which wafted down the hills. “Shabbat is almost here,” the Camp Director said.
The woman smiled. Her shirt and jeans a white color. “I must be seeing things, maybe the light turned them from blue to white,” the Camp Director thought.
The Camp Director and woman kept walking. They passed some huts by the lake. There, song leaders were practicing Shabbat melodies for a song session. As they sang the words “Shabbat Shalom.” The woman did a little dance and twirl.
The Camp Director thought, “I don’t recall our guest having her hair braided like a crown, full of flowers.”
The Camp Director said hospitably: “Come join us for a Shabbat Walk. We meet at the Office and walk through the camp. Each Cabin comes to join us on the trail till the whole camp is together. You will stay for Shabbat Services?” The woman laughed and nodded yes.
The Camp Director looked more closely now. Her clothing was made of fine cloth and lace. Why hadn’t she noticed that detail before?
The counselors and song leaders were standing by the office. The song leaders started their melody and the group began their walk through the camp. As they walked, campers, counsellors and camp employees emerged freshly cleaned and sweetly dressed with their best clothes.
They sang Shabbat Songs as they paraded through the camp: Hiney Mah Tov. More campers joined from more cabins… Bim Bam… and more campers came out the door… Niggunim… na, na, na… until a stream of singing, dancing, laughing folk were winding their way to the outdoor chapel by the lake.
They took their seats singing songs of rejoicing. Their voices carrying sweetly and far in the late afternoon air.
Lecha Dodi likrat Kallah, Pnei Shabbat N’Kabalah /Go forth my love to meet the bride, Shabbat’s reception has arrived, they sang.
Following them all at the rear was the Camp Director and their guest. From the rear they could see the campers singing as one. They could see the campers celebrating as one.
As they got to the final words of their song
Boi V’Shalom. Aterret Ba’alah/ Come forth, in peace the husband’s pride.
The campers stood and turned to the chapel entrance.
Eyes transfixed on the woman at the side of the Camp Director.
A young woman wearing a white dress, braided hair like a crown adorned with flowers… a feeling of happiness and joy flowing forth from her being. When she smiled a feeling of peace, of warmth, of love enveloped them all.
It was at that instant they all knew. They just knew. The bride had arrived.
Boi Kallah. Boi Kallah/ Come forth, O Bride. Come forth O Bride.
She ascended the chapel’s steps, a Shabbat Queen floating down the aisle.
They heard sung so sweetly in their inner ears a Shabbat Shalom.
They just knew the bride had come. Joyful, happy gratified, into the midst of the tribe.
Then with a communal blink she disappeared as mysteriously as she had entered.
Maybe she was a desire. Maybe a figment of their imagination? Maybe she was real? Maybe she had other camps, in other time zones to visit? Maybe she had other synagogues to enter? Maybe, maybe… who knows.
They knew they could debate this. But why?
Lecha Dodi… go forth my love…
All they needed to do was to pray and celebrate for the rest of Shabbat.