This past summer I had the privilege to be in the Rebbe’s camp, Camp Gan Yisroel, Parksville, N.Y.
On one particular glorious day, the CGI flag was waving proudly, and the activities were being announced over the P.A. system. I was anxiously awaiting for my Bunks turn, to find out what we were in store for. Foam machine, super soaker, or maybe leagues, after all this camp’s got it all.
But then I heard it, swimming, agaiiiiiiiin….Noooooo!!!!!
Being that I’m from California, swimming isn’t the most exciting thing for me. In fact, pretty boring. Quite disappointed, I meet up with my bunk down at the pool and to my surprise; my fellow bunkmates turn out to be just as sad as I am.
Our awesome counselors, noticing our frustration, decided, out of the blue, to attempt something crazy. To run-away from camp and hike up to the old abandoned Parkville Town. Maybe that will be exciting.
Nervous we were, but we were up for this exciting, yet daring adventure. We started out from 770 and made our way down Parksville Road, Route 52, chanting and singing, proudly as the Rebbe’s soldiers.
But little did we know, this wasn’t just fun and games, this was all for a reason. This was all planned out especially for us.
We arrive in Parksville to see that our worries were perfectly valid. The place is a Ghost town. Not a human or a car in sight. Old chained storefronts, broken windows and overgrown grass, a scary place to be. Then our counselors started to explain, how we are here for a holy purpose, to be Mevarer, refine the town. With this we all started saying Tanya by heart, started to sing and to dance.
But behold; the real reason why we were there. All of a sudden a car appears, and parks right near us. Out comes an elderly looking couple and a younger girl. Right away we clearly see emotion written all over their faces. We approach him and ask him if he’s Jewish.
“Of course I am,” he answers us.
With big smiles we give him the whole Hashgacha Pratis run down, of how we randomly came out of camp, at this time, to this place, all just to meet you!
He completely breaks down in tears. More like sobs.
He points to the building we were standing in front of, and starts to explain:
“You see, I grew up here, in this very town, in this very building to be precise. This city used to be booming with high class Yidden from the 1930’s and so forth. My dear father was the shochet and the chazzan, was a real respected man, and a community activist. I remember Yom Kippur, standing next to my father by kol nidrei, the most auspicious time of the year. Oh, how I miss those times.
“In the late 1950’s my respected father, sadly passed away. We then moved away to Massachusetts, and with that moved away from our Judaism. I always reminisce of these times, but this is the first time I’m coming back here.
“It warms my heart to see 12 young boys, almost bar mitzvah, running on these very same streets, smiling and laughing, just like I did, when I was a little boy, your age, proud to be Jewish.”
We were so moved and inspired, we just couldn’t wait to run back to camp and tell all our friends of this amazing Mivtzoim experience. But not before we broke into a lively circle, singing and dancing to the traditional songs that he remembered.
His wife and daughter were crying tears of joy for their husband/father. It was a real sight to see.
Just before we went back to camp, he turned to us and said, “I haven’t been to shul in a real long time. A new spark has been lit within me today, and I will once again start going to shul on a regular basis. Just do me one favor young boys, this Yom Kippur, think of me, have me in your prayers. I have a lot of repenting to do!”
The girls agreed to light Shabbat candles on Friday, and we ran back to camp on the highest of highs, with smiles and inspiration.
This past Shabbos was Yom Kippur and I had this precious Yid in mind.
This is what gives me chayus for the new year. A story like this, which shows us how lucky we are to be chassidim of such a Rebbe, should give us the strength to make 5774 the best we can. And may it be through us Kinderlach that moshiach should come now!
Thank you Gan Yisroel, Thank you Rebbe.
Gmar Chasimah Tovah,
A 12 years old from California