Mrs. Varda Epstein shares reflections from her first visit to TheZone.
Learning the Hebrew alphabet with a TorahMate
Everywhere I went the girls greeted me, asking my name, asking if there were anything they could do for me. Always with a smile.
It wasn’t what I would have expected from teens. What I would have expected from teens is utter narcissism. Total self-involvement. But that wasn’t happening at TheZone. TheZone is about giving and giving and giving some more. Not in a smarmy, false, gushy way, but in a way that makes you feel these girls feel good about helping others. TheZone helped them learn to give, thereby giving them a positive, higher purpose.
I hadn’t had any clue until now what it was my work on behalf of a car donation program with a funny name, performed at my desk via virtual office an ocean away, achieves. Which is why Rabbi Mintz went to the trouble of flying me in from Israel. He wanted me to see, really see, what it is we do.
Going back in time, one month earlier, I looked at my boys seated around the Shabbos table and I said to them, “Have Jewish children. That’s all I ask of you. Have Jewish children.”
At the time, I was thinking about the results of the Pew poll regarding American Jewry and assimilation.
I thought about that poll again Friday night as Mrs. Kleinman lit the candles in shul. “You can pray for anything you want at candle lighting and Hashem listens. He really does. You can ask for anything in any language and He will hear you,” she said.
I looked around the room. As Mrs. Kleinman covered her eyes to make the blessing, so did the girls. I noticed varying levels of engagement and concentration. Then I noticed the four girls sitting in the front pew, closest to Mrs. Kleinman. Their eyes were shut tight and their lips were moving furiously. They were totally focused on their prayers.
I thought, ‘Out of the hundreds of girls in this room, those four girls—those four banot Yisrael (lit. daughters of Israel, Jewish girls)- might be saved. They could end up bearing Jewish children, generations of Jews.’
TeenZone campers do the makeup and hair of younger campers in preparation for Shabbos.
TheZone had to be seen to be believed. No one could have ever explained it to me. And now that I’ve seen it, my job is to convey it to YOU.
How am I doing so far? Not there yet? So let me tell you about the Shabbos Revolution.
The girls worked toward this event at length. They were ready to make serious changes, real changes, in their Shabbos observance. A humongous poster was created on the wall of the dining room and on that poster were squares of paper on which campers had pledged to take on this or that new Shabbos observance. It might be refraining from biting one’s nails, or learning that week’s Torah portion. It might be as simple as not turning on the television.
And why did they do it? Ostensibly for the merit of IDF soldiers fighting a war. But in reality? The girls thirst for their Jewish heritage as a man in the desert, parched for water. They would have taken on these Shabbos observances, war or no war.
TheZone is packed with fun and friends. But you can get that at any summer camp. The difference at TheZone is that everything here is infused with meaning. Jewish meaning.
And you know that the memories built here at this place, high up in the Catskill Mountains, are solid memories. The kind that last a lifetime.