By CGI Staff
Outside the Ohel on Tuesday morning, 3 Elul, a group of 40 children gather. At the front of the group, 13 of the children line up and one by one they lead all the assembled in the 12 Pesukim, followed by the bracha of Harachaman…Adoneinu, moreinu v’Rabbeinu.
Slowly, the group, accompanied by their staff, files inside the Ohel, each holding onto their letter to the Rebbe. They have come prepared. Together, the campers and staff stand in front of the Rebbe and proudly display the spiritual growth and accomplishments they have achieved over the summer. The Rebbe surely looks on, and blesses each of the members of this special group with ברכה והצלחה, just as he has done in the past.
They leave with a new sense of Hiskashrus, connected to the Rebbe stronger than ever before, ready to travel home and fulfill in action all the Hachlotos they have committed to over the summer.
3 weeks prior, on Tuesday 13 Av, these children arrived in Oak Park, Michigan for the onset of the 3 Weeks program of Gan Yisroel Detroit. They have arrived in camp with expectations of learning, Davening and fun, all in the same all-encompassing 24 hour atmosphere of Kedusha, just as the Rebbe spoke about Gan Yisroel many times. The campers spend many hours each day learning with a geshmak, Davening with the unparalleled camp chayus, enjoying trips and sports permeated with Ahavas Yisroel and sporting a yarmulka and tzitzis, and most importantly, growing in their Hiskashrus to the Rebbe.
As Chof Av approached, the campers began learning a Sicha which the Rebbe said to children on the Yohrtzeit of his father in the year 5749 (1989). One camper and one staff member flew to New York, to represent the camp by the Rebbe on this special day. On the eve of the day, they gathered for a special Chof Av rally, watching videos of the Rebbe lead the tefillos, encouraging the joyful songs of campers from Gan Yisroel NY, and say the Sicha which they had learned. Each of the children wrote down their own Hanocho – transcript – of the talk, just as they see on the screen the children present in 770 doing. The rally was led in an interactive way with the video of the event, and all the campers are transported to a rally with the Rebbe in 770.
On Erev Shabbos, the campers and staff were invited to gather in the Shul for ‘the announcement of the summer’. At the end of the summer, after the banquet scheduled for Monday, 2 Elul, all those who wish would be able to board a bus headed to New York for a one day extension of camp. As the reason for being in camp, they were explained, is to grow in our connection to the Rebbe, let us all travel to the Rebbe together to show him our accomplishments. Excitedly, the campers headed to the phones for their Erev Shabbos phone calls, and discussed this exciting opportunity with their parents.
That night, at the Shabbos meal, one of the head counselors shared the following:
Tuesday night, 3 Elul 5748, thirty years ago. The Rebbe was then in the year of aveilus for the Rebbetzin, and all teffilos were taking place in the Rebbe’s home on President Street. Outside, a bus pulls up and a group of children descend. These are the campers returning from the 2 week program of Gan Yisroel Detroit in Oak Park, Michigan. They have merited to enter the Rebbe’s house, and hear him Daven Ma’ariv. As they wait for the Rebbe to come downstairs, they sing a song they had composed that Sunday on the words Kesiva Vachasima Toiva L’shana Toiva Umesuka (may you be inscribed and sealed for a good an sweet year!), after the Rebbe had spoken that day about the significance of blessing a fellow Jew so during the month of Elul. Before Ma’ariv, the Rebbe encourages their song.
Following Ma’ariv, the Rebbe went upstairs as usual. Then suddenly, the Mazkir came down and announced that the Rebbe would be coming downstairs again to give out dollars for Tzedakah. He motioned to the group of campers from Detroit to come to the front of the crowd and receive the dollars first.
As the Rebbe came downstairs, encouraging the joyous singing of Kesiva Vachasima Toiva, he looked around for a microphone, a sign that he wished to say a Sicha! A microphone was quickly brought, and the Rebbe addressed the campers for 15 minutes. In the Sicha, the Rebbe tasks the children with the responsibility of being “Levi’im,” separated from worldly matters and solely dedicated to the service of Hashem. The Rebbe mentions the children who walk in the street proudly displaying their Tzitzis (perhaps a reference to the laws of Tzitzis that the campers studied in camp that summer).
Following the Sicha, the campers lined up for dollars. One of them, who had won the ‘best camper’ award, led the children in Yechi, giving the Rebbe a special beracha. The campers passed by the Rebbe, as he blesses each member of this special group “Beracha V’hatzlacha”.
This year, the head counselor concluded, following camp, we will make that same journey that the campers of this camp made exactly thirty years ago. We too will pass by the Rebbe and receive his holy blessing, and see the Nachas he receives from the campers of his camp that he has invested so much in. On 3 Elul 5778, we to will all stand in front of the Rebbe to once again receive his holy Brocho.
Over the following days, the campers learned the Sicha that the Rebbe spoke then, and watched the videos of the event, again writing down their own Hanochos for clarity of the Rebbe’s holy words. The Sicha has a special meaning after having heard that it was said specifically to the campers of this very camp, exactly thirty years ago, on the same day that we will travel to the Rebbe following the conclusion of camp this year.
Special Hachlotos are made in preparation of the journey, focusing specifically on מעשה בפועל, concrete actions, so that the Rebbe should have a lasting impression on the members of this camp for many years to come. Saying Berachos and Bentching from a Siddur, extra meticulousness in Negel Vasser and Krias Shema, each deed connecting ourselves more to the Rebbe by fulfilling his expectations of children in Tzivos Hashem. The staff speak to each of the children individually, explaining the importance of travelling to the Rebbe and the uniqueness of this trip.
The long awaited day arrives. The bus pulls up at the Ohel, and the campers descend, singing the Nigun Kesiva Vachasima Toiva. Following Shacharis, they all sit down to write a letter to the Rebbe, and then entered the Ohel. They proudly show the Rebbe the fruits of his labor, the outcome of all the koichois he invested in his camp.
Now to, just as before, they have come to the Rebbe. They stand in his holy presence, and connect to the Rebbe stronger than ever before.
Later, after watching again some of the videos from that day 30 years earlier, they again boarded the bus to go to Crown Heights, where a special rally in 770 was held. Following a unique tour of the offices of JEM and other special treats, camp gathered in the Rebbe’s house for Mincha, at the exact location where the Rebbe addressed them before. It was there that camp officially concluded, and each of the campers departed for home, bringing with him them the spirit of this special trip, with the Brochos they have all received today from the Rebbe, to carry them throughout the year ahead.
We Daven to the Aibeshter that this should be the final time we come to the Ohel, and that we merit to once again stand in front of the Rebbe in 770 to physically receive a dollar from his holy hand, and see for our own eyes the special smile on his face reserved for the campers of Gan Yisroel. May it be speedily!